I’m Still Here

My birthday was July 3rd. I remember when I was young, I used to think I was just like the astrological sign Cancer. I thought it was fitting that I was born under this sign because I have so many of the characteristics. The irony is not only was I born under the Cancer sign; my body literally became a cancer two months after my 39th birthday in 2015.

Photo credit: horoscope.com

I think about my birthday differently ever since my diagnosis of stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer. There’s an additional layer of heaviness with each year that wasn’t as thick pre-cancer. I can’t help but think about all the cancer warriors who didn’t get to live to their next birthday. Once you’re inducted into the cancer sorority or fraternity, it’s impossible to not be plagued by survivor’s guilt.

Why am I still here? Do I have an invisible expiration date stamped on my body?

I’ve seen so much death in cancerland. Some of us have experienced wrath from a few of those who are metastatic (stage IV) who get triggered when we complain about something in our lives post-cancer. “At least you don’t have stage IV and not dying,” is what some will often say. It’s important to not compare our cancer experiences with others because you have no idea what all they have been through up to this point. While it may not be stage IV cancer, there are other things experienced that are uncertain, frustrating, and could eventually become deadly.

What they don’t know is my story and how I nearly died at birth.

What they don’t know is how I sick I was as a child, constantly fighting off infections and hospitalized multiple times.

What they don’t know is how I’ve known I would get cancer since I was 18 but just couldn’t be sure of when and what type.

What they don’t know is the grief I feel daily over not being married and having a family.

What they don’t know is all the death I’ve seen from cancer before I was even 12 years old.

What they don’t know is my mother has had a rare blood cancer for the past 20+ years and it’s currently progressing.

From the moment I was born three months early, I have been fighting to continue living in this world. It took my parents eight years to conceive. I am an IVF baby. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during the pregnancy. The doctors wanted her to have a therapeutic abortion because they said there’s no way both of us would survive this pregnancy. Their prediction was one of us or both of us would die.

When I made my grand entrance into the world, it wasn’t filled with excitement. It was filled with urgency and worry that my mother and I would die. My mother started hemorrhaging to death which is why an emergency cesarean was performed. Everyone was panicked because I wasn’t supposed to be born until the last week of October, but here I was coming out in July.

I was born 1lb 5oz at St. Luke’s Hospital in Davenport, IA. My parents didn’t even get to hold me because I was immediately rushed into ICU because I wasn’t breathing. My lungs had collapsed. Once the doctors got me breathing, I began to have grand mal seizures. After two months in the ICU, they discovered I had a benign fibrous histiocytoma in my right leg which was surgically removed. According to Google, fibrous histiocytoma is a benign soft tissue tumor that may present as a fibrous mass anywhere in the human body.

My body experienced trauma from day one and has never stopped. While I’ve never been surprised that I got cancer, I was surprised that I got in my late 30’s. The trauma continues with permanent damage and scars from cancer treatments and eight surgeries. It makes sense that I have fibromyalgia, too. I honestly believe this would’ve occurred later in life but was triggered thanks to chemo. I’ve had pneumonia twice as a child and twice as an adult.

The list goes on and on.

The physical and mental pain goes on and on.

So, why am I still here when others have died too young or have families who need them? I honestly don’t know. It is a shame that it took getting cancer to shake me out of simply existing to truly start living with purpose. The past year of my life was a little more difficult than I was prepared for, but my inherent resilience keeps pushing me forward, even when I don’t necessarily want to.

While I wait for my invisible expiration date to appear, I refuse to give up. I don’t to die on a bed of regrets. The song I’m Still Here by Sia perfectly sums up my thoughts at this moment because

I

AM

STILL

HERE.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

How Dark Am I?

I have repressed memories from childhood of the racism I’ve experienced. It’s the memories of the self-hate that seep into my mind. There are so many stories to share of when I first noticed I was different. I don’t mean quirky different. I’m mean when I noticed I was a different color that wasn’t found in my crayon box.

There was a time I loved the outdoors. I could lay in the sun, hike, play tag or kickball with friends all day. I loved soaking up the sun and smelling it on my skin.

Many of my white friends have always complain about being too pale or pasty and needing to tan. I wanted to be like them and tan too, but I was already brown. Did I really want to get even darker?

Me in my teens at the beach

I cringe even writing this. The self-hate is so evident. That fact I’m only recognizing this now shows how deeply rooted these feelings are in me.

Then I had another thought. If my white friends ever woke up my skin color, they would lose their ever-loving minds. Isn’t that what they want though? To be darker? As they want to get darker, I’ve always wanted to get lighter.

Many white people, even in 2020, don’t realize that black people of any shade can get sunburn just like them. I remember the first time I got sunburn when I was a teen and some of my white friends were fascinated by the fact my neck, shoulders, and back turned red and then peeled…just like them. “I didn’t know black people could get sunburn,” they would say. When I think back to that moment, I wonder if I purposely laid out in the sun until I burned so I could show I was just like them – them being white.

Now, I’m rarely in the sun. If I am, I always have a hat and sunscreen on. I’ve even used skin lightening cream in the past, which obviously didn’t work.

I remember when I was selected to go to Georgia Girls State at Middle Georgia College in Cochran, GA in the summer before my senior year of high school. I was so excited. There was a time I thought I might major in political science. My roommate was a black girl who was darker than me. She was kind of standoffish at first. I was slightly uncomfortable because I hadn’t been around many other black girls, let alone have one for a roommate. I acted like my usual zany self and eventually won her over. She kept saying I was “different,” but it didn’t sound like a compliment. She even wrote it on my banner at the end of the week. It felt more like she was saying you don’t act like a typical black girl, whatever that means. I’ve experienced this a lot in my life, even now.

Roommate’s comment – she spelled my name wrong. 🙂

Well, I was selected to take part in the mock trial. It was a big deal. They only selected three students to be the defendants and I was the only black one. I got to work with a judge, district attorney, defense attorney, chief of police, and a G.B.I. agent (Georgia Bureau of Investigations) to prepare for the mock trial. We even got to go off campus to film “the crime.” The jury was made up of students. I was the innocent friend who happened to get caught with the other two defendants. I had to tell the jury how I knew the defendants and what we were doing before “the crime.” The mock trial was held in the auditorium where the rest of the general assembly (all the students) were in the audience.

GA Girl’s State Mock Trial Cast – My given name is Megan Hester

I said we were at the beach just laying out before deciding to leave. When I uttered that sentence, I heard snickers from the black girls in the audience. When the mock trial was over, some of them asked why I would be laying out in the sun to get darker. They said, “Black people don’t do that.

That’s how deep systemic racism is in America. As blacks, every single one of us are aware that during slavery the light-skinned slaves got to stay in the slave owner’s house while the dark-skinned slaves had to be in the field. So, we inherently know that being lighter is seen as less threatening and aesthetically beautiful.

I continue working on my own Mixed Fragility and admit I’m struggling. Each time I look in the mirror, the first thing I notice aside from the chemo curly hair is my nose. It’s large. It’s not dainty like my mother’s. I’ve always compared my features to my mother who is biracial. We look nothing alike, yet white people always say we do because blacks often “all look alike” in their eyes. When I look at one my favorite pictures with my mother from when I was 10 years old, the difference is striking. I’ve always hated that I favor my father’s side who are dark-skinned and not my mother’s side.

10 year old Megan and Mother

What shades are considered light, medium, or dark? Where do I fall in the spectrum? I have a visceral reaction when someone in the black or white community calls me dark. I immediately take it to mean I am not considered attractive. How warped and heartbreaking is that? Will my exact skin color ever be seen in our society as beautiful and desired?

Just how dark am I?

Me on Wed 6/24/20

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

We All Bleed Red

My right hand is currently inflamed and burning, so typing is hard at the moment. I decided to take this opportunity to record a message for you instead. So, here is a short message from me on what I’m thinking about right at this moment.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Mixed Fragility

I feel like I’ve been hit on the head, but instead of being knocked out, it has woken me up. I’ve been uncomfortable being vocal about the racism I see and have experienced. Yet, I must push through it and not remain silent. You might be wondering why I feel uncomfortable. Well, I’ve finally been able to put it into words for you.

According to Dictionary.com, white fragility means the tendency among members of the dominant white cultural group to have a defensive, wounded, angry, or dismissive response to evidence of racism. This term is still new to me, but it is dead on.The more vocal I become about racism, the more I see this white fragility in some of the people I know in real life and those online who I only know on the surface.

Yet, I am struggling with what I call my own mixed fragility. I made up this term because it seems to fit my situation. This mixed fragility is my own tendency to be defensive, wounded, angry, or dismissive of the black community due to my own self-hate of not wanting to be associated with all that it means to be black in this country because it would cut me off from being accepted in the white community.

Whew. It was extremely difficult to not only acknowledge this but put it into words.

I’m sure a number of white friends who actually KNOW me are wondering why I have all this anger lately, and being so vocal about being black when I’ve never uttered a word of authentic support about the black community in the past. And you know what? I feel sick about it.

Let me share MY history of growing up in Macon, GA. I come from an educated family on my mother’s side where both grandparents were college graduates. My parents were married for 9 1/2 years before they divorced. Both are college graduates with master’s degrees and my mother has two Ph.D.’s. I was raised Catholic. I was often the only black person in my classes at St. Joseph’s Catholic School until I got older, then I was one of three. My mother and I were often the only black people to attend St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. I took ballet. I was heavily involved in community theatre where again I was often the only black person in the cast.

I did not have a lot of black influence growing up outside of my family. When the black kids I would meet while at summer camps would tease me for acting “too white” and for being a “sellout,” you can bet I felt anger and resentment. I wasn’t trying to be anything other than myself during those supremely awkward years. My mixed fragility would think why are these black people making fun of me for doing what I enjoy doing, and reading Anne of Green Gables, and for being naturally dramatic? The constant “you talk white” comments that plague me to this day hurt. I was immediately judged, so I judged back. Both parties were wrong.

I would feel such hostility by certain black kids (not all) in high school and the few I encountered in college in upstate NY. Those who went to Mount de Sales Academy should know of the people I’m referencing. Back then I would often think, “aren’t we at the same private Catholic high school?”

I was the only black cheerleader at The College of Saint Rose in my sophomore year. I would hear some of the black kids jeering at me from the benches saying, “quit acting white” and “cheerleading is for white girls.” I heard those comments at every blasted basketball game for that season and refused to be on the team the next year because it was so hurtful. I can only paste a smile on my face for so long.

The constant feeling of ‘you’re not one of us’ has followed me like a dark shadow. How can I love myself when those who look like me reject me? What’s wrong with being different, quirky, and extra? Why should I have to talk and dress a certain way to be accepted when that’s not how I grew up?

So, I naturally gravitated to the white community. I’ve always heard from a lot of white friends and acquaintances over the years that they don’t see my color. I honestly thought that was a good thing because in my warped mind I thought “good, they see me as white like them.”  I would often feel so accepted until I wasn’t invited to some birthday parties or sleepovers because their parents didn’t allow blacks in their homes. A guy who had been my dance partner in multiple musicals at Macon Little Theatre wasn’t allowed to go to prom with me because his parents said, “it’s one thing to be on stage with a n***er, but quite another to be seen out in public with one.” I’ve been followed in stores like Old Navy and Pier One because I must appear threatening with a damn fascinator in my hair or a purse that matches my shoes.

As an adult, I still do not have a lot of black friends. I have met a lot of black people over the years and within the cancer community, but I only have two who I consider real friends. One is male and one is female. Why? I’m still made fun of for not knowing about certain things that are staples within the black community like trap music for instance. I had to look it up and still don’t quite get it. I didn’t grow up with it.

Once tRump conned his way into the White House, I really started to feel the effects of his bigotry instantly. He and his cronies have given a green light to come out from the shadows and be open with their hate for blacks, POC and LGBTQ. I started to feel more hostility from whites than from blacks now. You can read my original post from last summer It’s a Troubling World about the white woman with her son who was misbehaving pointing at me saying, “See this black woman? If you don’t be quiet, she will ram her cart into you.” I remember when I posted this on my social media, I had so many white friends saying I should’ve said this and that to her. They just couldn’t understand why I remained quiet. Well, let me cue in that unhinged racist Amy Cooper and how she falsely escalated and accused the black bird watcher Christian Cooper of attacking her. I hope now my white friends will understand that’s why I kept quiet last year. I knew if I had said anything, that white woman could’ve called the police and falsely say I was threatening her and her kid. Only one person would’ve ended up in handcuffs or dead…me. The other white woman behind me in line witnessed the entire thing and said nothing. Nothing.

Again, some of my white friends told me they would’ve said something, or they couldn’t understand why I was so upset. I wonder…would they really have said something? Would they really have stood up for me or even a black stranger? Would they have gotten out of their comfort zone for another? Also, how did they not see by that white woman telling her son I would cause him harm, that little boy will start to associate any black or brown person as someone who could hurt him. That’s how one becomes a racist. The seeds are planted early when you’re young and impressionable.

Though I’m still working through my mixed fragility, I am keenly aware of how I’m not protected due to the color of my skin. I’ve been reading and researching to better understand my own black ancestry. I’m raising my voice not to be misconstrued as an “angry black woman,” but to speak out against what’s right and wrong. Racism is wrong. Period.

We need white voices to speak up when these situations occur. You can’t change a racist, but you can hopefully change an outcome with action. Here are two articles for my white friends to see how they can help fight racial injustice. 

https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234

https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies?fbclid=IwAR2pS0j7E4NdA8Z8Hr6OFNiwqsDtHFjzFdQxRMaoravHZP4mA8WYV-rPoFU

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie