A few days I did an eyebrow tutorial with the wonderful makeup artist, Hindash, in hopes to be able to post it on this blog so it can help other women undergoing chemotherapy and struggling with hair loss. After doing that video, I started to receive a lot of messages of support and love and, in all honesty, I never felt so exposed before in my life. Seeing yourself in the mirror with no makeup to disguise the acne that has attacked my face since chemo began, no hair on my head, half my eyebrows gone and a few eyelash extensions – that thankfully are still holding on – is quite tough. Needless to say, putting all of this out there for the world to see, is even harder.
Today is World Cancer Day and I started to think about all the ways that cancer has challenged me. I mean, it’s cancer, it’s chemotherapy – it has affected every aspect of my life. Every week, I go and have a chemo session not knowing which side effects will show up. Then is also the realization that there are so many things I still can’t do and no matter how positive you are, it’s hard not to wish that things would just go back to “normal”, to how they were. But.. they’re not. This is who I am now, this is what I deal with now. It empowers me, though. Every day, I wake up thinking ‘awesome, I’m alive and not feeling like shit, that’s something!’ Except on the days when I wake up and I do feel like shit. Those days when the nausea is so strong is hard to eat and when you feel like your body is giving up on you a little. When you look in the mirror and you feel sad because this absolutely sucks and honestly, I don’t think I deserved it. Thinking to yourself that you know it could be so much worse but that doesn’t mean it’s good right now.
It was in one of those tough days when I was having a really hard time looking at myself in the mirror, that my best friend, and an amazing photographer, convinced me to do a photo shoot sporting my new shiny bald hair. That morning, we went to a guys hair salon and I got my head razor shaved. I had already shaved my head before then, but I had left a bit of a buzz so I don’t feel so “cancer-y,” but my little hairs were still falling and I decided that it was time to get rid of it all. I had done 100 photoshoots with Angelika before, but this one was going to be different. I knew that she was insisting I do this shoot knowing I needed a confidence boost. Her and my friend Alia dressed me up in beautiful, sparkling outfits. I used all my makeup skills and we started the shoot in this stunning house. I was super shy at the beginning – I guess I had forgotten how much of my confidence was in my hair and posing bald made me feel very exposed and vulnerable. As we started changing outfits and locations, and thanks to Angelika and Alia’s encouraging words in between takes, I began to feel more comfortable. Now, looking at the images (see gallery at the bottom) I realize that I started to gain confidence because I was feeling more and more empowered. Yes, I may not look the same as before, but I feel so much more at peace with who I am now. Yes, some days it is still not easy to look at myself in the mirror – with all the physical changes cancer has put me through – but going through those hard days is how I have been able to find so much more empathy and love for myself than ever before.
When going through cancer, we hear the words “inspiring” and “strong” so often. Since going public with my illness, I started to think about what being “inspirational” means and where strength really comes from. All the beautiful messages I’ve received started to make me wonder – is it because as a cancer patient you’re expected to be depressed and miserable and I wasn’t, that meant that it was something to be rewarded? Having had cancer does not make me better than anyone. It makes it an experience, one I did not ask for, yet one that I am trying to live with dignity and grace. It is also an experience that I sometimes hate and that makes me feel weak and vulnerable. Cancer changed me. It continues to change me every single day. I no longer think about what will happen next year, I no longer plan far ahead – I think about the next chemo session hoping that it isn’t just pure luck that my side effects have been manageable and that it does not happen that in the coming weeks the day will come when everything falls apart and I feel like absolute shit again. That’s what I think about every single week. That’s what I keep hoping for, every week, that my side effects remain manageable so I can remain myself. Even as manageable as they have been so far, I still have to remind myself that I am still me and that this is something I am hoping will help me grow and become more empathetic, more truthful, more authentic. Most importantly, I am hoping this experience will help me love myself more and help me live with the understanding that life is not for granted and that if I’m going through this is to see that silver lining and live with gratitude.
The photos below were taken a few weeks ago – right before I started to lose my eyebrows. A huge, huge, thank you to Angelika Bakou, my best friend since more than 16 years for making me feel so beautiful even in the darkest of days. This shoot challenged my own beauty ideals and I am hoping it can help destigmatize the bald look – because bald is badass. To all my cancer sisters, whether you decide to go bald, or wear a wig, or wear a hat, or whatever it is, know that you’re badass. And finally, fuck cancer.