Tag

cancer survivor

To the girl on the left…

Two years apart.

Same Lululemon hoodie; different body and soul occupying it.

I’m not here to bullshit with all the champions who are going through chemo right now and tell you “everything will be ok!” because we all know that’s not always true. And in those daunting hours, days, months of treatment we often can’t see the light because we’re literally confined indoors to our homes and hospitals under the stale fluorescence of fake lighting and saccharin enthusiasm.

I found my light by observing others who had walked the path before me. They have hair! They are going on vacations! They have cleavage! I was bald and puffy. I felt left behind and sorry for myself. But I saw my future in the other cancer survivors who were years ahead of me in remission. I realized that my new normal—crushing exhaustion as I would draw on my eyebrows every morning and glue on fake eyelashes just so I could look halfway decent and avoid sneers and stares if I even dared to venture into the outside world–would not be my forever normal.

So, to the girl on the left, I’d like you to meet the girl on the right. She is one of those future cancer survivors that you’re going to enviously admire. Let her be a testimony to all of the doubts and insecurities you’re feeling right now. Let her show you how life can be normal again. Although you feel small and helpless now, she is evidence that miracles are being planted in the ashes that surround you, and they will grow into oak trees with roots so deep they do not fear the changing seasons.

She is proof that –although you cannot see the plan God has for you—you are right on track.

To the girl on the left: I know you nearly had a panic attack before you posted that picture of yourself bald on social media.  You were flustered and frightened by what the response would be because you cared what other people thought. And you will be criticized but not in a way you are prepared for. You will be judged for wearing wigs to “hide” your cancer. You will be condemned for saying the word “fuck” in your blog. You will be chastised for posting photos of your mastectomy scar and surgeries. You will get fusilladed by a sea of eye-rolls as you perpetually forget important dates and can’t even recall what you said in a conversation two hours ago.

The girl on the right is proof that as time passes and people pass judgement, you’ll learn to care a little less about those things. She is proof that you can and should do whatever the hell makes you happy because by the time you’ve caught up to the girl on the right, you’ll have earned every ounce of that happiness.

She is proof that one day you’ll become a stranger in the oncology department which now seems so familiar and where everybody knows your name. She is proof that there will be weeks that go by before the word “cancer” is spoken. And when it is, that word will slip from your mouth like a vase full of flowers tumbling to their demise while you flinch at the piercing explosion on the cold marble floor. It will rattle you. But also remember that the girl on the right is a fucking badass so she asks someone to grab a broom and everybody laughs because she says “I hated that ugly vase anyways.”

She is proof that as your life changes, you will learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine.

She is proof that you are not alone in your fight. Stay strong, whatever you’re going through now is just the test before you learn the lesson.

 

 

 

My Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media

It’s 8:47 p.m. on a Monday. I flip open my personal laptop and the bright screen practically blinds my eyes in the evening light. Annoyed, I dim the screen’s light and go to Facebook. To be honest, I loathe Facebook, but I feel obligated to give it a brief scan to make sure I haven’t missed anything important like National Chicken & Waffles Day.

One headline jumps out at me. My heart starts beating steadily faster and I can’t decide if I’m going to cry or throw my laptop off the balcony. The post says that cancer isn’t real. Cancer is actually caused by a vitamin deficiency and is a government hoax. Vitamins. Well, Holy Shit Balls, I guess the answer has been under our noses all along?

The sins of social media are flourishing in an already credulous time. I’ve considered taking a break from it recently; it’s just all too much. I’ve seen people with GoFundMe links asking for money who will also post photos with their $4,000 handbag casually in the background. I’ve seen spineless comments made on Facebook that cancer is population control and we shouldn’t fight it. The lies, the negativity, the advertisements, the duck lips. And WE ALL DO IT, in some way or another. I don’t post an ugly picture of myself because I don’t want people to think I’m ugly. However, I DID look ugly in that photo. It’s social manipulation.

I try to project honesty through my social media, but I’m not always straightforward. I’m not as strong or healthy as I portray myself. I’m not as witty in person — I’m better at writing than I am at speaking. Social media is amazing, but lately, I find it leaving me emotionally exhausted. Why do I keep doing it?

I check my phone probably 80 times a day. I rapidly double-tap my screen on as many cancer survivor’s Instagram photos as I can. I make comments, responses, hearts. As I was clicking through my phone on Monday, I decided to check up on a young breast cancer friend whom I hadn’t seen post in a while. I searched for her name and looked at her Instagram. She died one month ago. My heart feels like broken glass scraping through my chest.

Those moments are the worst aspects of social media, but also the most honest, unadulterated ones. Because, I had never met her, but I felt so connected with her and some of these women that it doesn’t matter. We share an intangible bond that was manifested through the internet, with people we’ve never physically met. This is the pure, beautiful part of social media that keeps me encouraged. The relationships we build with other kindred souls is what gives meaning to life.

It doesn’t matter if your relationships are made through social media or real life. They don’t need to be defined by anything other than their value, because physical proximity is increasingly invalid in a globally connected world. Cultivate the ones you care about and spread virtue.

We tend to sit behind our glowing screens and become separate, and sometimes worse, versions of ourselves. As children, we’re taught to think before we speak. But today, we need to think before we post. To the people out there who spam me with unsubstantiated articles that cancer is fake, I invite you to come to Florida and tell me that cancer isn’t real to my face. I’ll take you on a field trip to the oncology wing of my hospital.

Social media is a blessing and a curse, but I’m challenging myself to live with less of it and with more integrity. Last weekend, I had so much fun going on adventures with my friends that I forgot to take any pictures! I encourage you to do the same this holiday weekend, because I’m going to wear a unicorn costume and light fireworks off the roof and not take a single picture. When it’s not on social media, you’ll never know if it really happened.

P.S. Put your phone down and go outside. Namaste.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Go ahead, insult me. I dare you.

There is a disheveled little karaoke bar that is walking distance from my old address. It’s across from a strip of beach that’s lined with predominantly vacant snowbird condo buildings that are older than me. Inside the nautical-themed bar, it’s a sea of peppered gray and balding heads bobbing above a tide of Tommy Bahama button-ups and sun-bleached T-shirts advertising various Key West bars. It’s the least pretentious bar you could ever imagine visiting.

The South Florida city where I live is famously pretentious. It’s a place where money and beauty are common, and deciding whether to drive the Bentley or the Maybach to the grocery store is an actual choice for a lot of people. Where the hard-bodied weekend warriors masquerade through the sleek nightlife in their designer camouflage to atone for their insecurities. They’re peacocks fanning out their Chanel feathers.

The karaoke bar is a sanctuary away from the peacocks. After chemo, I sought out these safe places where I could avoid the size 0 birds and their irrationally beautiful skin and hair. Girls can be cruel, and when you don’t have hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes, the thought of being caught in the sightline of a Regina George-type (Mean Girls) will make you sweat like a polar bear on South Beach.

That evening, I was wearing a long, brown wig and a floppy, black hat. I had on fake eyelashes and stenciled eyebrows. It always was quite exhausting to get my face ready for public view, but I did it wearily because I needed a liquid remedy with friends after my week. Upon ordering our drinks at the bar, I overheard a male voice near me say, “Why would she wear a hat indoors at night? It’s dark out. You’d look better in that hat, anyways, babe.”

I froze. I came here to escape those exact words that he spoke, and yet here I was in my secure little nest being judged. The peacocks had infiltrated. I could have pretended that I didn’t hear it. But I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t stand up to this pejorative frat boy in the name of all of those who have been victims of the mean girls and boys in life.

So, I turned slowly to him with squinty eyes and said,“Oh, you don’t like my hat? If you want to know why I’m wearing a hat indoors, then you should just ask me. Because this is why.” I dramatically ripped off my hat and wig to reveal my bald head. “I had cancer. So, NEXT TIME … before you open your mouth to judge someone, you’d better think about me (insert expletive).” Drop mic.

The horrified faces of the frat boy and the girl almost made me feel bad for what I had done. Almost.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time something like that happened. Cancer can make you fragile, but its moments like these that will ignite a fire deep within. We have a confidence that is unshakable because it does not rely on our outward appearance. Go ahead, insult me. I dare you.

By condemning each other, we’re only breaking ourselves and submerging our own insecurities — women, especially. We need to stick together. We need to empower each other instead of condemning, because a rising tide lifts all boats. I encourage you to strip away your own intangible veils the way I ripped off my wig. If we remove the façade, we’ll realize we’re all just men and women fighting the same struggles.

Bury the gossip, the office chatter, the neighborhood rants. Who are you really competing with or trying to impress? Think about it. And then go watch Mean Girls for a good laugh.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.

White Lies, Rainbows and Puppies

White Lies, Rainbows and Puppies: Sometimes We Just Need a Good Cry

Sometimes I get really sick of talking about cancer. I get sick of hearing my own voice, of talking about wigs and boobs, of posting photos of my chemo-hair updates with the inflated enthusiasm of an elf on crack. At times, I want to pretend that it all never happened. To never speak the word cancer again. To never write a single syllable or utter a single breath on the topic. Sometimes, my overzealous optimism becomes too full and embellished; it collapses beneath the burden of its own weight. It’s a difficult job to always be a cheerleader.

Sometimes I just want to talk about cat memes and tacos. Like, what’s cancer?

When a person asks about my cancer experiences, it can be an out-of-body experience. I am standing right next to this human who looks like me, watching her talk. “Chemo didn’t even make me sick. Me and my friends went out to a beach bar and drank vodka martinis a few days after my second chemo!” Remember that show VH1 Pop Up Videos? A white conversation bubble pops on the screen. “True Story: She had one drink, 8 days after chemo and had to leave the bar because she was nauseous and had unbearable heartburn! LOL.” That info nugget indicts me of my white lies. Of my cancer propaganda that narrates an altered story.

I will never outwardly admit that things weren’t all rainbows and puppies. It’s the big sister in me who is being intrinsically protective. I’m hiding the callous truths from my friends and family who may get cancer at some point in their lives. I’m guarding my own ego. Because, as bad as things may get, I am the type who never will admit to it. It’s mind over matter.

As a cancer survivor, we all have a myriad of internal struggles about coming to terms with what we’ve been through. Everyone will say “You’re so strong, you’re so brave.” In truth, we don’t feel that way. We try to act fearless for everyone else’s sake. Brave? Me? Bravery is when you run into a burning building to save a baby. We’re not running head-first into cancer. We didn’t choose this. We’re running head first into survival. And it can be exhausting.

So, forgive me and forgive us, when we’re not always standing tall with our hands on our hips and projecting a rainbow beacon of bravery like a pink Care Bear. As much as we wish we were a magical cartoon with superpowers, we’re mortal humans who still put on our unicorn yoga pants one leg at a time.

So, if you’re a friend or family member aboard this ugly rollercoaster with us, just know that sometimes we just want stillness. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about cancer like it was an educational summer camp we attended and came home adorned in badges and medals. Sometimes we just need to hide in a closet and cry.

We are grateful and happy to be alive, but it’s equally gratifying to occasionally have a good ugly-faced cry and think about how far we’ve come. We recall those little white lies that we told our friends and family, “Oh, I feel great! Surgery was a breeze.” Because, unless you’ve been there, you’ll never be able to handle our horror stores of physical pain and aching despair.

But we know the real truth. The stories we tell others may have a fake sparkly tint to them, but it’s not without reason. We rewrite them to selflessly protect you. And that’s what I believe makes us brave.

*Article first published 4/28/17 at Breastcancer-news.com by me, duh.