As a woman, losing my hair was such a profound experience. During my breast cancer journey, it was then that I realized how much I connected my appearance to my femininity. And without it, not only did I feel insecure, but I often was conflicted with the idea that I was less than a woman.
I remember the weekend vividly my hair was falling out in chunks. Tears fell when I looked in the mirror at my balding, dry, yellow head, my thinning eyebrows, and eyelashes. My illness was physically manifesting for the world to see just how sick I was. Two weeks after the first cycle of chemotherapy, my hair was just about gone. As a teacher, I worried about how my students, families, and co-workers would react.
It was an uncomfortable feeling knowing I was going to be view by everyone in such a vulnerable way. I also knew that my cancer diagnosis did not mean my life was automatically over. But losing my hair meant I was in for a new and different type of fight that required me to be focused and mentally healthy. And that mental toughness came with a strong reason to fight and survive.
A ray of sunshine
One Saturday afternoon I received a package from one of my best friends. Inside was a beautiful soft scarf. Playing with it was so new. The second I looked in the mirror everything changed. I felt beautiful and empowered to face the world. I wore that scarf every day whether it matched with my outfits or not.
A week later my cousin and his wife surprised me with two more beautiful scarves. That made an even greater impact on how I faced the day- to -day reality of living with cancer. Having those three gifted scarves from the people I love, gave me courage and strength to become truly comfortable in my skin. It completely lifted my soul. At the same time, it felt as if I had been given the torch in the hardest relay race and it was my turn to finish it.
Courage for the Soul
I recall there were days I wanted to throw up my hands and quit. Those were the days I read over and over a powerful quote by Mary Anne Radmacher: "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is that quiet voice at the end of the day saying: I will try again tomorrow." When I was at my lowest, I kept my reason to fight in sight, remained hopeful, and tried over and over.
It was finishing that race and conquering the fight, which inspired me to help other women walking the same path. I wanted to share the same joy and courage I felt when I received my scarves. The idea of spreading courage and lifting women's soul during their struggle with cancer was born after I completed treatment in October 2016. So, for my survivorship party, I asked guests to bring a scarf as a donation to pass on hope and courage on their behalf to women facing hair loss due to chemotherapy. My story opened the doors to spread the message of courage and strength at Advocate Illinois Masonic - Creticos Cancer Center, where I received care. Gifting scarves to led to the creation of Courage for the Soul in May 2017 with the mission to spread courage and strength one scarf at a time to women fighting cancer. All Ages, All Stages, and All Cancers.
Passing on the torch
With a grateful heart, I say thank you to my dear friend Edith, my cousin Tony and Family for coloring my canvas during this journey. Thank you for loving me and giving me the strength to be courageous and fight on. Those gifted scarves gave me opportunities to excel, opportunities to struggle, opportunities to be significant, opportunities to be humble, opportunities to cry hard and to love. And now, the opportunity to pass on the torch with a "ray of sunshine."