A Year of Growth

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The other day I logged into Facebook and was greeted with a blast from the past via their “On This Day” feature. It was a photo from last January’s Las Vegas Market, my first work trip since my cancer diagnosis.

That trip felt a bit like a coming out party. I’d been off the road for nearly six months, and I was completely changed, inside and out.

Particularly out. At that point, my hair was just growing back in, and I’d decided to dye it red for a change of pace. I had a funky new pair of glasses, and I was trying to figure out how to feel comfortable in my skin again after the world-rocking experience of cancer, chemotherapy and mastectomy.

Looking at that photo, I couldn’t help thinking how here a year later, I once again look completely different. I did a side-by-side comparison for you–these photos were taken almost exactly a year apart, to the day.

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2017 vs. 2018

I can’t help noticing more about the photo on the left than just my hair. There’s a sadness in my eyes in that first shot, and a feeling of trepidation. I look like I want to smile, but just can’t quite bring myself to do it. I’m still too tired, still too fearful, still too worn to even fake joy.

And here I am today on the right. There’s a smirk, but not a full smile. I’m not quite there yet. My hair is wild, curly and blonde. The latter feels like the me I was before all this, but those wild curls seem to represent how I feel about my life now. One of my favorite sayings is: “You can’t control everything–your hair was put on your head to remind you of that.” Ain’t it the truth?!

I have a new appreciation for relinquishing control. Or accepting that I cannot control everything, and that’s OK. Are there days that living that truth is hard? Hell yes. But it’s an important lesson to learn, and even though I hate the way I was taught it, I’m glad for the knowledge nonetheless.

This last year has been one of growth for me on so many fronts. From my hair to my health to my emotional well-being, I’m in a better place than I was in January 2017. And while I still have plenty of growing to do (particularly on that hair front!), I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished thus far. Growth is hard, but growth is so good.

 

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Awkward Conversations

One of the things people never really warn you about with a cancer diagnosis are the awkward conversations.

There’s the unpleasant business of telling your family, friends and co-workers. There are the “how are you feeling” questions that during chemo you want to answer, “like a steaming pile of shit just flattened by a tank.” But you don’t because you’re Southern and too polite for your own good. There are the conversations with your oncologist about how menopause is affecting your sex life. SO much awkward.

And the thing is, they don’t end with the conclusion of treatment.

This week, I went to a conference for work. I saw lots of people from the industry I cover who’ve seen me go from a long-haired blonde to a pixie-cut redhead to the blonde, curly mop I’m sporting now.

Because I never made any sort of public announcement about my cancer (because that would have been super-awkward), most of them have no idea what I’ve been through or why my hair has changed so drastically.

One sweet gal remarked how much she loved seeing all the hairstyle changes over the past year. She was genuinely complimenting me, so I just smiled. But inside? So awkward.

Another time, a colleague from a previous job who now works for one of the furniture companies I write about remarked on my short, curly hair. “Is it naturally curly?” She asked, having always known me to have straight hair. “No,” I responded. Later I laughed, realizing she probably thought I’d cut my hair off and permed what was left. She probably thought I’d lost my mind!

I could’ve just told these people the truth. I didn’t cut my hair; it fell out. And when it finally grew back, it was curly. Because of chemo. Because I had cancer.

But like I’ve said before, that’s a giant turd to drop on someone. It stops the conversation. It changes the tone. It makes people feel…awkward.

Just like I’ve learned to talk around my dead mom when new people ask about my family, I’m learning to talk around my cancer. Not out of shame or anything like that, but just to make things easier. When things have been so hard, a little ease is worth any internal awkwardness I may feel.

Tentatively Hopeful

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A new year has arrived. Last year at this time, I was positively euphoric for a fresh start. 2016 was one of the worst years of my life, and barring some major catastrophe, 2017 was poised to be better at least by comparison.

And it was. Last year was a pretty great year for me. I had several surgeries and started my adjustment to life as a survivor, but these were all things I could manage. Health stuff aside, things were pretty great in other parts of my life, too. I went to my favorite city with my sister, visited Seattle and Oak Island for the first time, rocked out to a reunited Guns ‘n’ Roses, listened to Andre Leon Talley talk fashion, celebrated my 20th high school reunion and spent so much time just simply enjoying life with the people I love the most.

So, as I approach this new year, I’m…well…a bit nervous. Call it paranoia or superstition, but I can’t help having this sinking feeling that the other shoe is going to drop after having such a great 2017.

I know this is irrational, but irrational thoughts are pretty much de rigueur for cancer survivors, particularly those of us who were already a little neurotic before the Big C wrecked our lives.

That said, I’m trying to seize this year just as I did 2017. I’ve decided that this is the year I “take my body back.” With pregnancy, motherhood and nursing, then cancer and the ensuing treatment, I feel like my body hasn’t been my own since 2013. So, I’m really focusing on being as healthy as I can be. I’m joining the gym in my office park so I’ll work out regularly, and I’m really trying to be serious about changing the way I eat.

I’m also trying to continue the practice of self-care that I’ve dabbled in this past year. That includes things like evening baths, massages, meditation and acupuncture. These things just make me feel good. I’d also like to get back to yoga on a regular basis, too.

I know that I will not always hit the mark with these goals. But, I’m really trying to stick to them and be as healthy and strong as possible. There are few things in this world I can control, but I can at least buttress my defenses in case I need to fight.