Here are pieces that I have written while I was 18-19 years old either during or post treatment during my relapse in 2010–“strike 2.” Similar to “strike 1.” they have no true chronological order or structure to how they are presented here.
I wrote this shortly after I was diagnosed again the second time. I was driving around Whetstone Park, meditating on a teaching that had clearly explained the gospel in a new light for me. I felt incredible weight around me as I parked near the creek and knew it was God comforting me in that moment. After sitting there for a while with him, crying, all of my realizations of what was happening came out in this prayer below.
“You were designed to have a relationship with Christ.” And the weight of this realization totally hits me. It is so simplistic, so basic, so true…a smooth, solid rock. I am lifted higher and higher and higher until I am face to face with the Creator. Oh there is so much joy, so much my heart feels physically lifted, that this blanket of worry that keeps choking me with its heat has been uncovered. Created…me. I wasn’t created to have cancer, to feel pain but to feel love, to feel love a million times over every second of everyday. Created not to worry, but to enjoy peace in knowing that everything has been taken care of for me before my birth. I was created because the most awesome being wanted me to be in existence for the sole purpose of having another human to love, to bless. Cause these blessings here are not of this earth. Oh they are much longer lasting. And they are simply and always will be mine because of his giving spirit, because he wanted and so chose to. There is simply the Lord and me and his people. This is what he wanted all along. So what interactions I have in this world, this temporary home does not matter. What the psalmist says is true: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire but you.” (Psalm 73:25) It does not matter what I choose to do “for the rest of my life” because I already have an occupation: to be loved and share this understanding with others. (How can I not now that I understand its total goodness?) It doesn’t matter and I shouldn’t worry about if I will live long enough to marry, to have children, to have a career because I am complete and more than satisfied with his love. It doesn’t matter if I have to get surgery, if there are side effects to my body, if my energy wanes, if cancer returns again and again and again, cause this body I live with for a second compared to the new, healthy, unearthly body I will have for all eternity. Oh, my spirit cannot wait for it! So I am here not to live in worry of the future but live in complete confidence of the next life. How can I not see that I am experiencing only a fraction of God’s blessings here in this lifetime, especially when he mercifully and graciously gave us the ultimate blessing here on earth—salvation—and I can take it with me to the next life! How much greater will the blessings be that I will receive in heaven I can’t fathom. Oh he is so good. Extremely, everlastingly good.
I wrote this “Spoken History” for an English class at Otterbein University. The prompt was to write essentially an autobiography, constructing within it how you have defied social norms. I am always fascinated with the idea of wigs/beauty/cancer patients, and during my relapse I choose not to wear a wig but instead hats and scarves. The piece below is a “Spoken History” because during the class, you had to read the paper aloud. Many of my classmates had no idea that I was a cancer survivor. Surprise!
When my cancer relapsed last year, memories of my first cancer diagnosis bombarded me. When I opened the dresser drawer, instead of seeing socks a TV screen appeared, showing me my recently diagnosed thirteen year old self running to her mother with the hair that came out when she brushed it. When I received a paper back in class, the paper instantly transformed in my hands to another vision: going to the salon and cutting my hair to a short buzz. When I opened the door to the bathroom, there I saw my ghost, my thirteen year old self, completely bald now, looking into the mirror for the first time, examining the shape of her head, trying to now reconcile that yes, this is still me. I was going to have to go through all of these visions again; these memories were my prophets at eighteen. Again, five years after remission, this cycle would unfold. The cycle seemed to haunt me.
When the doctors told me again that my cancer was back last year, I had already known. My body had notified me of the invader, the betraying cells from within, long before the medical tests captured their movements. With the diagnosis now verified by science, my first vow to myself was I will not wear a wig again. I refused. There was no way that I was going to allow society’s thoughts on beauty once again hold me captive, make me feel the need to cover up, to conceal my bald head by wearing a wig.
And I worn one once. At thirteen, I complied to society’s norms, to its ideas of a woman, that to be a woman means to have beautiful hair that she combs, tends to, takes care of, sculpts to make herself beautiful. Here I was at thirteen void of what society told me that is something so characteristic of the female, but it was something out of my control. I knew to walk out in public bald as other guys do would be atypical. I would be stepping out of the circle of the normal. At thirteen, all I wanted to do was remain inside, to be safe, to be accepted.
Wearing a wig helped me to feel like I was still within this circle, but using dead hair, the nonliving to allow me to feel alive was a paradox that would sometimes make me tremble in rage. My scalp itched. It sweat. The wires would scrap my skin, and with each scrap would it would remain me of the game I was playing, a daily game of dress up, of performance.
The wig became my master. I enslaved myself to it, fearing that someone would see me without it. It was my guard, my protection against society and their stares and comments. My bald head was never exposed to anyone once from 2004 to 2005.
When my hair began to grow out after the year of chemotherapy treatments, it began to grow a small fence between my wig and I. It began to complicate my enslavement: why wear it when one has hair? I learned that it wasn’t the wig I was enslaved to, but it was the allusion wearing it gave me. Although the wig’s touch, its look fake, I would rather cling to it in desperation over my own real, true short hair.
I battled with the wig. With my mother’s encouragement, I freed myself from it. Arriving to high school that morning, I anticipated the worse. The stares, the comments. I received a wide variety of comments that day from compliments to criticism. The negative comments, the ones I was trying to hide from so much, were really nothing. They had no power against me. I finally had hair. My own hair, follicles that were mine, short hair that I would embrace and now lovingly take care of. It was permanent; it was mine.
My hair. A phrase that had not been mine for a year was now slipped back into my vocabulary. It was beautiful, and the new hair seemed to be tamed by the chemotherapy, new curls that were manageable grew as harvest. It was mine. It was mine. It was mine.
For five years it was mine. I celebrated my hair. I rejoiced it. Its multitude of curls brought me compliments. I was known for my hair. People could see me from a far, the shoulder length curls arriving into a room before I did. I thought this hair would be mine again forever.
At eighteen, forever abruptly ended with my relapse.
I prayed that a miracle would occur. God, let me keep my hair! The prayer seemed to be working for the first few weeks of chemotherapy, but then it rained. My hair began to fall out. I could tug at it and pieces would just fall. It is a strange sensation to watch yourself seemingly deteriorate before you. It was more so annoying to be in this in between process of fall and winter. Having to keep raking up hair from my shoulders, my back, my clothing to discard it. It was as if my hair had a magnetism to myself, even when it wasn’t directly attached to me still. It itched. I cut my hair’s season of autumn and bid winter to come early, this long winter.
I prepared a burial, a ceremony for my hair secretly. I went to my room, scissors and a plastic bag in hand. Sitting Indian style on the ground, I laid my tools before me. I stared for a moment, breathed, then reached up and began cutting. I cut the hair that tried desperately to stay in this war of attrition against the chemotherapy, the hair that I had so desperately loved. I knew God would not send a replacement ram for this sacrifice.
Yet, it was freeing, this ceremony. I seemed to have had some choice in the matter, some own action on my part instead of willingly letting the chemotherapy take me over. Gathering my hair into the plastic bag, I looked and saw a birds nest of hair, and there was a small shot of joy. From my dead hair could come life. Instead of circling my scalp it would now circle a robin’s blue, blue eggs. It would still be housing and celebrating life. My body and life had still won over chemotherapy’s mission to destroy.
I stared into the mirror now, observing my head shape. I would have never been able to fully appreciate its form with my hair still intact. Even more surprising to myself, I allowed others to view it in full as well. I removed my scarves, my hats before them, and felt comfortable enough to do so. Here was a small piece of society that I knew would be fully accepting, and they were more than accepting. They found my bald head to be beautiful even outside of society’s conventional norms.
With chemotherapy ending this past February, spring came. The short, short hair on my sprouted. My friends were delighted, thrilled, cheering and encouraging my hair to grow more and more. They wanted me to stop wearing the hats, the scarves, but I denied their requests saying it’s still too cold outside to go around with short hair. (Anyone with short hair knows just how cold your head gets, how much you don’t realize your hair provides not only vanity but warmth.) With this argument, they stopped persisting.
Then the weather started to get warmer, and now I had no excuse. My hair was getting longer, it still is with each day, yet I held onto the hats still. Why? I thought I had overcome the conventional ideas of beauty, but a small, small part of me still held on. This part of me said my friends were nagging, persisting, but the whole me knew they were right. So I walked out, hatless, free. I physically felt freedom, felt it welcoming me into its arms. I was joyous once I stepped outside, hat-free, and minute worries I had vanished.
This hair is mine. It’s short. It maintains and defines my skull’s shape, allowing this form to be fully seen. No longer am I hiding under fake hair, a scarf, a hat. This hair is mine. I claim it. It is me. This is me.