She looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize her own reflection. She’s bald. The bags under her eyes display how little sleep she has gotten over the past few months. She undresses and sees her curves. Since her diagnosis, she’s gained 15 pounds, which is unfortunately the norm for her type of cancer. Much like the sky on a gray day in winter, there is no beauty to be found here.
Once a week or so, she logs onto Facebook to look through her old photographs. She smiles at first, feeling nostalgic, before the tears begin to stream down her face. There was a time when she was the girl with the striking red hair. There was a time when she could see her godson whenever she wanted without risking an infection that could delay her treatment. There was a time when the majority of her social life didn’t consist of regular visits to the Chemotherapy Room. There was a time when she wasn’t:
She’s prided herself on being able to process her emotions and then move past them, but that’s become tougher. The fatigue, the steroids, the pain, early menopause and how much her life has changed have taken their toll. She wants her hair back, her body back and her old life back.
People ask her if treatment is working, and that’s a question that she won’t be able to answer anytime soon. See, she has an aggressive type of cancer that was caught at the earliest possible stage. With this type of cancer, there’s a high risk of a metastatic recurrence (also known as stage four cancer or the party is probably over) within five to ten years. She’s following the protocol that has been shown to drastically reduce her risk of recurrence, but only time will tell whether treatment has been successful.
She confesses that she has had a few pity parties since she started chemotherapy. But, then, the clouds part, and the sun returns.
She receives a call from a friend who has found a breast lump and wants to know what to do.
She puts on some lingerie before her man arrives and reminds herself that she doesn’t need to feel sexy to be sexy.
An old family friend writes her that she’s getting her first mammogram in over 20 years.
A man opens up to her about how breast cancer has affected him.
She gets involved in a project to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer prevention, research and education.
People – with and without cancer — approach her on the street and thank her for being brave enough to go out in public bald.
She realizes that she will be a stronger advocate against the use of carcinogens in sex toys because she has had cancer.
Strangers send her messages that they’ve started doing breast self-exams or scheduled their first mammograms after reading her blog.
If her experience can be about more than just her, then how can she cry for that long? This is part of God’s plan. She silently repeats Joyce Meyer’s quote:
The opposite of fear is faith.
She dries the few tears that have fallen down her cheeks and prepares to go for a short walk. There will be bad days until she’s done with treatment in March, but today is a good day. And, she trusts that there will be many, many more good days in her future.
For that, she is grateful.