Making Peace with Cancer

Today was my last day of radiation, and for all intents and purposes my “active treatment” is over. No more chemo, no more radiation; the hardest part of this “journey” is (hopefully) behind me. I keep thinking I should be celebrating or feel more of a sense that things are over.

I realized this afternoon that I don’t feel like cancer is over because I don’t think cancer ever ends. And I don’t mean that in a depressing way. I just mean that cancer has become a part of who I am, and there’s no putting it behind me. You can’t ever be done with cancer, because it changes who you are, fundamentally.

The word “survivor” implies that the thing you survived is now over.  That was hard, but I survived it. Like it’s a marathon or something. The truth is, at this point I am no closer to or further from death than anyone else is. I have faced my own mortality a lot younger than most people, and I’ve learned a heck of a lot as a result. But every day I go to bed alive, I have survived, just like you have.

Accepting that cancer has been part of your life is scary. Once it’s been there, it never leaves, and there’s a real loss of control there. There is no going back to “normal.” Normal is gone now. Cancer changes who you are, physically and emotionally, forever. Something you did not choose changed you forever, and if you don’t like how it’s changed you or you don’t quite know how it’s changed you, it can be a real struggle. You cannot ignore it, and you have to find a new identity. You can fight that, but it’s the truth. At some point, you have to make peace with cancer.

I have found peace in my cancer diagnosis, because I truly believe that my purpose in life is to conquer some really hard stuff, so that I can help other people do it, too. It has changed the way that I approach my life for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful for that. It has made me more comfortable in my skin.

Every moment that I have, I am living to the fullest. And I don’t mean that in the cheesy inspirational-quotes-on-Facebook sort of way. I mean, if I am laying around on the couch, I am 100% laying on the couch. I am totally okay with that choice, and I am really enjoying it. I am not making myself feel guilty for what I “should” be doing. If someone else has a problem with my laying on the couch, I truly don’t care. My life is much easier and more peaceful now that I’ve mentally gotten out of my own way.

And quite honestly, I have cancer to thank for that.

 

The featured image is me on the radiation machine (a photo Bear captured covertly, as it was totally against the rules). Crazy, right?

I’m About to Lose My Favorite Physical Attribute, and Here’s How I’m Coping

vanity-funny-meme-pink-poodle

Raising a daughter, I’ve always wanted to show Charlie that her personality and her soul are more important than her physical body. I want her to feel good about herself and see that she’s worth more than her gorgeous face & body. I will pray to whomever is listening that she gets through her teenage years without choosing an abusive boyfriend or shorts that show the bottom of her butt cheeks. (I MEAN REALLY GIRLS STOP IT.)

But real talk, I like mascara, bright lipstick, and cute hair. Getting dressed in the morning is like, totally a highlight of my day.

So this morning, when I realized that I likely washed my long hair for the last time in a very long time, I was feeling pretty damn sad.

I previously said that I wasn’t feeling too bad about losing my hair. In the comments of my last post, my new friend and fellow cancer survivor Grace said that losing her hair made her feel like her outside finally matched her inside. I think deep down, this is why I wasn’t super upset about the idea. Right now my cancer diagnosis is invisible, which I’m sure is a blessing in its own right. But most of the time, it makes me feel like something Huge and Life Altering has happened to me and no one can see it. Somehow it feels dishonest, which is an odd feeling considering I’m a total blabbermouth.

It takes about 2-4 weeks for your hair to fall out from chemo, so I made a plan that I thought (at the time) was super fabulous. I’ll get my hair cut into a cute pixie (or who knows? Maybe a wild mohawk!) before chemo starts, get used to shorter hair, and then I’ll shave it all off once it starts to fall out. I’ll do something wild, fun, and, most importantly, distracting. I’ll turn this whole hair loss thing into an exciting party on my head and make it through with as little trauma as possible.

I decided to do this the weekend before I start chemo. Bear’s mom is a talented stylist, and she’d agreed to fly up from Los Angeles to give me my fabulous new cut.

But I start chemo in 9 days. Single digits. The weekend before chemo is this coming weekend. So I did the only logical thing: I had a meltdown and called my mommy.

A few weeks ago, Bear’s mom colored my hair, so it’s been looking extra beautiful lately. (Here we are in my bathroom, me wearing a black trash bag & looking really glamorous. Thank you so much for doing this, Pam!)

sara-and-pam

Ever since, I look in the mirror and I am reminded how very much I love my hair. 

I love everything about my hair (except that it grows out of my head 40% gray, but that’s neither here nor there). Nature randomly gifted me with perfect loose curls, and chemistry gifted me with perfect color. It is one of my favorite parts of my physical self, and I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I thought I wouldn’t miss it.

What follows is an ode to my hair.

I have a long history with my hair. In elementary school, I was known for my exceedingly long hair — like, past my butt long. Check it out (this is me in 5th grade. Do you like my headband and my tucked-in, oversized tee?):

sara-with-long-hair

In late high school, I had a really short cut. See below (sorry to all the North Salem High folks I’m bringing down with me in this photo – it couldn’t be helped).

sara-with-short-hair

After that, I let it grow, and when I moved to San Francisco in 2014 something magical happened: my hair changed texture and turned into perfect loose curls. I was in heaven.

My hair was gorgeous. It was my crowning glory. I loved it. My ex-husband joked (at  least, I think it was a joke) that he’d leave me if I ever cut it. Check this out (and my beautiful friend Lisa):

sara-with-long-hair-with-lisa

Then a couple of years ago, I randomly decided that I identified too much with my long hair and decided to cut it short(-ish).

On Halloween 2015, I went to see a new and fabulous stylist named Sara who was dressed as a unicorn. I felt like I’d met my spirit animal, and she chopped my hair into something short and really fab. Here Charlie and I are, post-chop:

sara-in-the-stylists-chair-original-short-cut

It was fun, kind of flirty, and something I emotionally needed to do (check out the warrior ring I’m wearing in that photo, btw). I was glad I did it, but I’ve been growing it out ever since.

Bottom line: I like myself with long, red, curly hair, and I think cutting it all off may not actually be fun. It might be traumatizing and include a lot of crying. At this point, my emotions change minute to minute, so I have no clue whether it’ll be The Shit or a Shit Show.

I ended up asking Bear’s mom to work her magic later, when my hair starts growing back all ugly after chemo, which will be a totally positive experience and OMG-the-horror-is-behind-me-and-I-have-nothing-but-happy-feelings.

For now, I have an appointment for next Saturday with Sara, my spirit animal. If I keep the appointment, this time next week I’ll have short hair. But the truth is, whether I keep the appointment or not, this time next month I won’t have any hair at all. You can’t stop the cancer train once you’re on it, unfortunately.

In any case, my intention is to rock my hair loss. I allow myself pity parties that last approximately 5-10 minutes, and then I figure out how to get over it. I’ve already got a VERY soft beanie, fabulous earrings, and a growing collection of awesome scarves.

Unlike the sensation in my breasts, my hair will come back. This is just another temporary style I’ll be rocking, much like my 80s crimped side-pony or my regrettable 90s spikes. I may not have chosen this, but it isn’t forever, and for that I am very grateful.

When I was 35, I kicked the shit out of cancer, and it never came back.

What Being a Warrior Means to Me

This post originally appeared on Instagram and Facebook.

warrior-ring-for-women

When I went through my divorce, I never took off this warrior ring. It was a reminder that I could get through any battle I faced (and there were many). Soon after I met Bear, though, the ring broke. I was devastated. It felt like I’d lost something that had been part of my body for four years. I decided to look at it as a sign that I didn’t need to battle through life anymore, and I set it aside.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I fixed it. That’s how you get through cancer, right? Like a warrior? But when I put it on, it didn’t feel right anymore. I couldn’t figure out why, and then suddenly I realized that there are two reasons this ring no longer works for me.

First off, I am choosing to look at my journey through cancer as healing, not fighting. I don’t need to be a warrior, I need to cuddle up in a soft blanket and let the drugs work & my body heal.

Secondly, the warrior on this ring is facing battle alone. Divorce can be a very isolating experience, and you’re alone a *lot* of the time, which you’re not used to. It is sad, and you need a reminder that you’re a warrior and you’ll get through it. But cancer has been different for me. I am privileged not to be alone at *all.* My friends and family and complete strangers have rallied around me to support me. I am not going into a battle, and I don’t need an army, because I have a tribe.

So with that, this ring is going back into retirement. It’s served its purpose, and I’m grateful for the support it gave me when I needed it. But I’m going to lean on my incredibly loving and generous friends and family now.

Thanks warrior, but I don’t need you anymore.