A picture is worth a thousand words. First glance is WOW, what a pretty photo! I look healthy and vibrant when I was anything but. I had NO hair under that hat and was recovering from my first round of chemotherapy. My Mom and I went shopping for that hat the day after all my hair fell out. The hat was because I wasn’t going to miss my high school senior year homecoming dance.
We thought we had some more time before the great American hair fall out, but the day before the dance, about 80% of my hair came out in huge clumps.
It was actually quite painful. Not just emotionally, but physically. My head was throbbing and the rest of the hair came out the next day. I’m not sure I would have wanted this to go on for days or weeks, but 36 hours was a sucker punch.
I feel calm as I write this but that day was complete and utter chaos for everyone in my family. Lots of tears and confusion. I even accidentally slammed my poor sister Amanda’s finger in the door. She had to go the ER and get stitches. No biggie, we had nothing else to do that day. She just wanted to come in the bathroom and comfort me and see what a balding head looked like. I didn’t want her in there so I slammed the door while, unbeknownst to me, her finger was still in it.
Biggest cluster Fuck ever. Like blood squirting on the door, Amanda passing out on the lawn kind of cluster.
Her finger was never the same and her nail has not completely grown there since. I am glad that it was her middle finger because she sticks it up in my face every so often to remind me of how we survived one of the worst days of my life…My family’s lives.
I had all kinds of meds to deal with the awful chemo symptoms. My mom said she dug into my Valium that night and took one for herself. Every time she talks about that day she says she remembers sitting in a chair just staring at the wall. Amanda was asleep after having the tip of her finger taken off, I’m at a school dance with no immune system or hair, and Heather went out which was the best choice anyone could make.
When I think about telling any of my stories I go straight to my old place of “No one wants to hear this, why are you talking about yourself, Michelle?” Then I think to myself, why wouldn’t I tell this story? Not just once, but over and over? Its remarkable. I also think about how this didn’t just happen to me. It happened to my sisters, my step-dad, and most of all, my Mom.
I wasn’t the only one that survived stage 3 cancer, my whole family did.
This is why it’s so important to share our pain. How on earth are we supposed to know what incredible strength we have unless we can remind ourselves that we had days, periods of time, where we didn’t think we would make it through this life. I can look back on this time and smile. It sounds strange but the truth is, it is a part of me that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I think about how scary this time was and I am grateful and joyful. To feel that much pain is how I know that I can feel so much joy.
Even at 46 years old I am still amazed that I knew I had cancer at the age of 17 before I had any symptoms or even really knew what cancer was. My recurring dream about having cancer is by far the most amazing part of the story. It was the divine and mysterious part of the whole thing. It was a gift. Do yourself a favor. Go dig through your old photos and pick one out. Any one. Ask yourself what was going on in your life at that time. Do you remember something amazing happening to you or your family at that time? It may not seem like the story is so special. I promise you, the rest of the world won’t feel that way. You have something to share that someone needs to hear.