I’m strolling down memory lane remembering my very first audition for a musical in May 1990. It was Grease. Over two hundred kids auditioned and only 30 or so were chosen. I was one of the youngest ones in the cast and was a cheerleader. Kind of fitting, huh? I had one line that always got a laugh when I sat on Doody’s lap.
I was bullied a lot in the high school days and never truly fit in. I was “too different.” So why am I bringing this up? Well, it reminded me of a time where I felt a part of something big and special.
I felt accepted.
I felt liked.
I felt magical.
I felt seen.
That’s how I feel in cancerland. I’ve longed to find my place in the world. I never thought I would find this kind of acceptance for just being plain ‘ole ME. I’ve dealt with some in cancerland who are bullies and rude and who tried to bring me down and doubt myself. Fortunately, going through cancer has given me a thicker skin and made me intolerant of bullshit.
There was a time in my life pre-cancer where I didn’t feel like I had any friends. I had isolated myself which is completely against my nature. I wasn’t confident. I had become this anxiety ridden and insecure woman.
I can honestly say my cancer treatments not only killed the cancer, it also killed that insecurity and anxiety that had kept me stagnant from moving forward in life. It’s strange that it took something life-threating for me to realize that I been a walking zombie just going through the motions with no feeling other than despair.
Fast forward to present day, and I feel like the ME who once stepped on that stage in Grease. I’m fostering friendships both in and out of cancerland. I can honestly say I have friends locally to hang out with now, but I also have friends out of state and internationally who I can facetime or Skype with too. They are just as supportive and caring as the few who are here locally.
I feel confident.
I feel encouraged.
I feel loved.
I feel supported.
So, I leave you with the video of the finale in Greaseclick here because that’s how I feel about all the incredible people that keep coming into my life. There is a new pep in my step. My heart is doing cartwheels. Dare I say, I’m actually having some FUN.
I’ve always been a big romantic. I remember how disappointed I felt when I realized that love isn’t like the movies. I wanted so much to believe in fairytales and happy endings. I never thought I’d have to write my own…alone.
I didn’t date in high school in Macon, GA. I dated a little bit in college in Albany, NY. I went nuts dating in Los Angeles, CA because I felt like a hottie. Then when I moved back to Atlanta, GA, my dating life somewhat fizzled.
For me, it IS harder dating in the south than it was up north or on the west coast. Aside from the whole race issue, I feel dating is harder in this post-cancer body.
I was interviewed for an article about cancer and dating for Datingroo in the UK. Click here for article In the article, I talk about the difficulties of not knowing what to say on dates anymore. I don’t know what to put on my dating profile anymore.
Now that my lower back issue should hopefully be resolved or at least feel less pain in the coming weeks after my spinal epidural injection and additional PT, walking and standing won’t be as much of an issue anymore.
I remember going on a date a year post-cancer and the guy commented that I seem to be walking stiffly. How could I tell him my body feels like a 500-year-old, and that it was taking everything I had to not show pain while we walked into the restaurant or getting up from the chair?
I’m a well-known talker, so the fact I’m often at a loss for words on top of not being able to find words (thanks chemo brain), conversation is hard and awkward when talking with a man on the phone or in person. I don’t know how to talk about trivial things anymore. My thought process (when functioning) is heavy. I’m not as light or carefree as I used to be.
I have a hard time taking a compliment from a man because I immediately want to correct him and let him know I didn’t always look like this. I looked better. I looked thinner. I still feel like an imposter in this body.
Zero sex drive
Scars like a railroad track
Radiation scars on left side of neck
Cognitive Issues (chemo brain)
Hair (though can wear straight now) is so much thinner
In this body, I don’t attract the type of men I’m attracted to. Instead, I get thugs or creepy old white guys contacting me. That’s why I deleted my dating profile two years ago. I’ve never thought of myself ugly or strikingly beautiful. I know I have a pretty face with a sparkling personality. The fact these types of guys are what I attract in this body, well, it was hurting my self-esteem.
The saying, “The right guy won’t care what you look like” is false. Men are visual. Heck, I’m visual too!
That’s why I’ll spend another year as my own valentine. Until I can learn to at least like this body a little more, I can’t put myself out there, even if just for fun. The rejection that comes with dating is hard. My current mindset is too fragile to handle it.
I’ll never love this post-cancer body, but I can learn to at least like it. Plus, I refuse to settle.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all the single people both in cancerland and out.
As I sit here thinking of Black History month and World Cancer Day, I have my favorite cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing to keep me in a Zen state of mind. I try not to let any negative or infuriatingly racially charged comments that I’ve received on my personal social media seep into heart but have a harder time when it stems from someone in the cancer community. This will be a post that I won’t be able to share in my online cancer support groups due to this topic.
Until a white person becomes a person of color, they will NEVER comprehend how many are treated by the white community and medical community. I’ve been questioned and not taken seriously or talked down to and know without a doubt it’s due to the color of my skin. Why do so many white people constantly question the validity of our experiences???
I used to have a lot of self-hate for myself. Growing up in the south and in a relatively small town where I was often the only person of color in my elementary school, church, ballet class or in a play or musical. I had horrible experiences as a child and teen that I don’t often talk about. Why? It’s because a white person will inevitably say that I took those comments the wrong way or it’s all in my head.
I remember not being invited to birthday parties because my friend’s parents wouldn’t allow him/her to have any black people over.
I remember a racist comment a religion teacher my junior year in high school made about the black sea. He said, “Why do they call it the black sea? It’s because all the black people bathed in it and made it dirty.” I remember sitting there shocked and sickened because the white kids and some of the black kids in my class laughed. Was I the only one who heard how extremely racist that comment was? Were the other black kids laughing because they didn’t know what else to do?
I remember asking a friend who had been my dance partner in numerous musicals back in the high school days at Macon Little Theatre if he wanted to go to prom with me. He immediately said yes because we always had fun on stage. Well, when he told his parents, they made him call me and say he couldn’t go because they didn’t want their son walking into prom with a black girl.
I remember going to different gynecologists here in Atlanta when I first moved back from LA and them not taking my pain seriously and just pushing birth control pills on me. When I ended up in the ER due to the severity of the pain, it turned out to be ovarian cyst that had ruptured.
I remember last year standing in line at two different pharmacies and a white mother telling her child, “See that black woman there? If you don’t be quiet, she will run her cart into you.” The first woman who said something similar at Kroger had just said “woman” but the one at Target said, “black woman.” Both were terrible because each little child will start to associate brown and black people with wanting to hurt them.
I remember being questioned about the type of breast cancer I had by the intake coordinator at the Cancer Support Community in Atlanta back in October 2015. Even though I wrote on the form that I had Stage IIA Invasive Lobular, the woman kept questioning me saying, “Are you sure it’s not Triple Negative? That’s what’s common in the African American community.” Why did I have to tell her three times that I know what kind of breast cancer I have and just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’ll automatically have something that’s common in that black community. It showed me that instead of seeing me as just a cancer patient looking for support, she saw me as an ignorant black cancer patient.
I remember posting that story in my cancer groups and some of the women blasting me for talking about race on there. They said race has no purpose in that group. Um, what?! When a white person keeps questioning the facts that I’ve written about MY type of cancer and not believing it because it’s “not common with African Americans” is beyond infuriating and racist.
I’ve seen first-hand how hate is taught. None of us are born with hate. I’ve experienced intraracial prejudice, but that is a topic for another day.
When a white person, especially in the cancer community, tells me I need to advocate for myself, I seriously lose my freaking mind. Then I try and tell myself this person doesn’t know me or know that I’m a HUGE advocate for myself and have ALWAYS been that way.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” right? Well, don’t judge a person by their skin color. My DNA is 62% black and 38% other but all most tend to see is “just black.”
All of this to say, when a person of color tells you about a negative experience they deem racist whether inside or outside the cancer community, don’t question them. If we say it out loud or write about it, it’s because it has affected us in some way. Take it as a learning opportunity and don’t tell us it’s in our heads. You weren’t there to see facial expressions or hear the tone and inflection.
Now it’s time to blast some old school Korn and Nine Inch Nails because I’m supremely worked up after writing this.
I think many cancer patients/survivors grieve for some part of themselves that’s been lost to this horrible disease. When you add the loss of body parts or the body that you used to know, the grief becomes greater. Then when cancer makes you infertile when you’re still of childbearing age, there’s another type of grief that is palpable.
One of the hardest paths I’ve had to travel post-cancer has been due to the choice of having a child being taken away. Since I was intolerant of the medications to help prevent recurrence for pre-menopausal women, I had to be medically induced into menopause in 2017, so I could try the medications for post-menopausal women. Plus, during my pre-cancer days, I had ongoing issues with my cervix and ovaries – multiple abnormal pap smears and cysts the size of lemons on my ovaries. I had a bicornuate uterus which means it was heart-shaped, so high risk for miscarriages and premature birth.
It’s painfully clear that I would’ve struggled to get pregnant and/or carry a baby to full term. Do I want to live, or die doesn’t seem like a fair choice.
I had stopped blogging about my feelings on infertility because I would get so hurt when people would say, “just adopt or foster.” It’s such a callous thing to say even though I know they were trying to be supportive. I constantly wanted to scream that I’m chronically single!!!
I grew up with divorced parents where my mother had sole custody of me. I saw how hard it was to raise me as single, divorced woman. It truly took an amazing village to help raise and support my mother and I and know we were blessed to have such amazing support. That’s why I would never want to raise a child on my own unless forced due to a divorce. I’ve cost my mother a fortune, even as an adult.
I would never willingly adopt or foster a vulnerable child without being able to fully support them financially and emotionally. I physically don’t have the energy to handle raising a child on my own. I can barely keep myself afloat with medical bills constantly hanging over me and chronic pain that can often turn excruciating. How would that be fair to a child? They need more than just love.
The part I struggle with the most is the longing to share my childhood and college memories, values and wisdom with a child.
Fast forward to Friday evening when I was talking with my friend Francesca. I mentioned her a lot last year because we partnered together to write an abstract that we were selected to present titled, “You don’t really have a say in anything…like you don’t have any options”: AYA Cancer Survivors’ Perspectives on Fertility Preservation Conversations with Healthcare Providers at the 16th Annual American Psychosocial Oncology Society(APOS) in Atlanta in February 2019. It’s honestly one of the proudest moments of my life post-cancer thus far.
Though I’m 20+ years older than Francesca, who is studying for the MCAT’s, she is authentic, thoughtful, brilliant and compassionate among other fantastic qualities. She floored me by saying she thought of me like a godmother, an aunt and a big sister rolled into one. She said I didn’t need to only think I can impart wisdom or share my memories and values with a child.
The way she said those words…her tone and inflection just touched my heart and gave me a new perspective on my infertility. As you can imagine, I was brought to tears but tears of joy and appreciation. Francesca was surprised I didn’t seem to realize that’s how she viewed me.
I had been so stuck on the grieving train thinking only about the loss of a baby or young child, I never thought about the true impact I could make and have apparently been making on an actual young adult outside the cancer world. I’ve mentored over the years but never had anyone say what Francesca said to me with such sincerity.
Yes, I still feel the loss of choice, but have gained a new and unexpected perspective on this loss. I do have so much love to give and little words of wisdom to impart. I’m usually very observant but completely missed seeing I’ve been making a positive impact on someone for almost two years.
My life on the cancer train just took a lovely turn on an unexpected path which has given me a new sense of hope and purpose. Words matter. I see now that I matter too.