Going through cancer is like being on a never-ending rollercoaster in the dark. You never know what drop or curve is coming next. I’ve often written and spoken about how devastating the physical changes are and how destructive the mental changes are. Yet, I realized something a few days ago that is a surprisingly positive side effect – my attitude changed.
There isn’t a day that goes by without missing my pre-cancer body. Every morning I wake up, I immediately curse it because I can no longer count on it to be healthy or strong.
Painsomnia is my nightly companion.
My cortisol belly and non-estrogen-producing body horrify me by their immense size.
The physical strength I used to possess is gone.
Nails break, eyebrows are filled in with brow gel on the daily, and lashes are no longer thick.
Fibromyalgia and chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy are the exes who won’t leave me alone.
Lower back pain did temporarily go away after two facet injections last year but now I need a third one.
This body of mine continues to bankrupt me financially and mentally. There is so much out of my control, except my assertive mind. I will no longer tolerate bullshit or being disrespected – personally or professionally. I’ve mentioned this before but there’s a difference now. I’ve been actively living in my truth and values (yay therapy).
I’ve dealt with racism and microaggressions my entire life and career but never had the confidence to truly do something about it. The first time I actually said, “I will not be the Black token” and “I do not feel safe” was 15 months ago at my previous employment. I was so scared, that my voice shook, but I knew I had to stand up for myself. I was drowning mentally and emotionally but something shifted in my spirit the first time I said those words.
I believed in my talent and expertise so much that I just knew I would land on my feet. Did it hurt me financially to leave a job back then without a backup plan? Yes, it did, but I spoke MY truth. Now that I’ve done it once I can’t go back to being silent.
Existing in this country and in this skin has cracked my soul in ways I can’t fully verbalize. While it’s exhausting, I am becoming careful about protecting access to my energy. Who knew maintaining healthy boundaries would be difficult yet freeing at the same time?!
Though I continue to struggle with accepting this post-cancer body both externally and internally, I feel more confident to be unapologetically ME and stand up for myself in situations where no one else has the courage to do so.
I decided to repost this piece that was originally published last year in August. I’ve been struggling as I continue to watch the Chauvin murder trial. It reminded me again about the problem with words as the defense attorney of that murderer tried to assassinate the character of George Floyd. Is there no bottom with people like that?
I think about the way I’ve been talked down to by nurses and doctors. How invalidating and condescending they can be until I open my mouth and set them straight. Why is everything dictated by the color of my skin? Why can’t I just been seen as a quirky human and talked to with respect?
Once again, my creative mind isn’t functioning well at this moment. My professional life is on FIRE in an amazing way. I have taken on the role as Partnership Director with GRYT Health and asked to be a contributing blogger for WebMD starting next month. I should be over the moon, right? Right?
Unfortunately, my personal life of existing in this body and in this skin color leaves me utterly depleted and unable to turn to the creative outlets that have brought comfort in the past. So, I might repost some of my previously written blogs over the next few weeks because I’m still going through some things. Plus, most of what I’ve previously written is what I am struggling with now. While I can still let racist and insulting words roll off my back, I am still human and still affected. After all, it’s okay to NOT be okay.
Original Post August 2, 2020
As I was seeing beautiful black and white pictures of women for the #challengeaccepted posts on Instagram, I decided to use it as an opportunity to post the ugly things I’ve been told over the years. I know it shocked some people because my picture was cute but the words below it were tough to see. I felt it was important to express how words can be so damaging to a person’s psyche.
I kept it short on Instagram but decided to expand on it to see how far I’ve come in my own healing and thinking. No one should be told these things. I don’t know why I had to be the person on the receiving end of such hate and ignorance. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. It’s painful. It’s a problem with words.
I’ve been called a nigger.
I’ve been called ugly.
I’ve been called fat by men.
I’ve been called stupid by a teacher.
I’ve been called stupid by an employer.
I’ve been told I will fail.
I’ve been told I don’t matter.
I’ve been told I don’t exist.
I’ve been told I don’t belong.
I’ve been told I’m a sellout.
I’ve been called too emotional.
I’ve been called weak.
I’ve been called an Oreo.
I’ve been called unfeeling.
I’ve been called a valley girl.
I’ve been told I act too white.
I’ve been told I dress too white.
I’ve been told I’m not loveable.
I’ve been told I speak so well.
I’ve been told I’m not black enough.
My psyche has been systematically torn to pieces for 20+ years by the ignorance and racism from whites and blacks that started in my hometown of Macon, GA and has followed me through the years as a young adult and in the professional world. I reread my journal this morning from senior year of high school in 1995 and still have a visceral reaction to my words.
The pain of not being accepted.
The pain of being bullied.
The pain of desperately wanting to leave the south.
I never felt I belonged anywhere until the college years, especially junior and senior years at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. That’s why I hold onto my college memories so fiercely because I found a group of friends so eclectic, smart, clever, and so accepting that I felt safe to be authentically me at that time. I’m glad I have scrapbooks and multiple photo albums that captured the fun times and great opportunities from that magical time in my life.
I honestly thought once I became a working adult that my work ethic and merit would get me ahead. As more years went by, the more oppressed and defeated I became. I would be told I’m an “expert,” yet companies could never find the money to give me a proper raise. They would be shocked when I turned in my resignation and then have the nerve to ask, “Is there anything we can do to keep you from leaving?”
I had been carrying all that negativity from racism, oppression, and feelings of inferiority on my back for so many years that I lost complete faith in my abilities and talent. I used to think it was a cruel joke that I received multiple awards in high school and college. I was constantly told I would be going places because of my talent. It turned out none of it counted in the “real world.”
My cancer experience redefined me. It helped to rediscover my voice that had been silenced for so long that I thought it was lost forever. I’ll never consider cancer a gift, but it was an opportunity to rediscover the things that once brought me true joy. Yet, I was still playing it too safe. I wasn’t fully taking back what control I had left over my life. I was remaining comfortable in the uncomfortable; still too paralyzed to make any serious moves.
It took a pandemic to force me to pause and pivot not just my career but also my mindset. Rereading that journal from my 17-18-year-old self this morning reminded me how much I’ve carried the hurt from people’s words that ultimately turned me into a shell of my former myself.
I’ve had a resurgence of my passions and confidence while rekindling old friendships and cultivating new and profound friendships. My mindset changed once I fully began to believe in myself and know my worth thanks to a lot of help from my friends. I’m blessed to have so many people continue to lift me up even when I’ve doubted myself all these years.
So, here’s what I repeat to myself now that I’ve shed that cloak of negativity that was suffocating me.
I AM intelligent.
I AM talented.
I AM worthy.
I AM inspirational.
I AM feminine.
I AM a writer.
I AM a performer.
I AM a Nut-Meg.
I AM a talker.
I AM a powerhouse.
I AM loving.
I AM sensitive.
I AM giving.
I AM kind.
I AM enough.
My newfound armor continues to grow thicker each day, so insulting or hateful words or rude comments no longer sting. They smoothly roll off my back.
I am different and always will be. And you know what? That is OKAY.