TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
What’s the most favorite thing about yourself?
My answer used to be my thick hair. It was organically long, healthy, and shiny. I used to follow the Asian stereotype where nothing about my body was #thiccccc, except my hair.
Any time I used to get my hair trimmed, stylists would always admire how healthy my hair was. Any time the nasty stenches of NYC would creep up my nostrils, I would use my hair as a shield and sniff the residual fragrances from my shampoo. Any time I felt anxiety, I would use it as a security blanket and twirl it. Any time there was a fun social event, I would get my hair done to match the theme of my outfit. Any time Paul and I would cuddle, he would play with it. My hair was my identity.
I was scared shitless of losing both my breasts and hair, but I honestly struggled more with the thought of losing my hair. In general, people can see your head at first glance since it’s always fully exposed. Breasts are only visible to those you give consent. I was terrified of losing the freedom of wearing my hair how I wanted as an expression of my identity.
Losing my hair was abso-f*king-lutely gut-wrenching. I read articles where women claimed they “grew bolder as they got balder,” and I just couldn’t seem to relate. I wasn’t ready to let go of my security blanket, and I was just so fearful at that point in my journey. I cried many times over it. I had multiple break downs leading up to the day of my shave. The rocks in my chest and throat never seemed to go away.
Cancer is figuratively the biggest asshole I've ever met in my life, and cancer was my Goliath. Throughout my journey, I felt like I never stood a chance to win. It felt like a loss after another loss after another loss and so forth. A new side effect would appear, an unexpected complication would occur, my care team constantly delivered bad news, bills started to pile, my FOMO was constant, and the list of invasive medical procedures never seemed to end. As losses kept happening, wins seemed harder and harder to achieve.
So, did I grow bolder as I got balder? Unfortunately, no. I grew bolder the moment my hair started growing back. I realized that I could’ve “grown bolder as I got balder” but didn’t because I failed to recognize this:
Remember how I said it felt like a loss after another loss after another loss? The moment I looked in the mirror and saw sprouts of hair growing from the top of head was what felt like my very first win. Shortly after, my range of motion in my right arm was back to normal thanks to the rigorous physical therapy I underwent. Shortly after, I was cancer-free. Shortly after, the horrible exhaustion gradually disappeared. Shortly after, I completed my first one-mile jog since my diagnosis. Shortly after, I returned to work. Shortly after, I was back to creating meaningful memories with my loved ones. Shortly after, I was fulfilling dreams that I neglected for many years.
Everyone’s cancer journey is so different, so I can only speak for myself. When I was in the thick of it and when my emotions were running high, my journey felt something along the lines of this:
Loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss, loss … win, win, win, win, win, win, win, WIN.
I got so stuck in the midst of the overall trauma and exhaustion that I completely forgot to remind myself that wins would come my way.
I wanted to share this particular diary entry in my blog because losing my hair was one of the biggest punches in my gut that left a lingering pain until the day my hair started growing back.
If you are like me, and if you are extremely attached to your hair, I want you to know that the light at the end of tunnel may feel far but you will fight your hardest to reach it where positive things await.
Once I came to this realization, I vowed to no longer define my identity through my hair. Most importantly, I vowed to never let the length of my hair and other temporary setbacks in life stop me from living my best life.
My favorite thing about myself is no longer my hair, whatever length and texture it may be.
My new answer is my thick skin.
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**This post was republished from Michelle's original blog, which you can view here.