Dear Loved Ones,
I’ve been thinking about how to update all of you on my chemotherapy treatments this summer, which just so happen to have fallen right smack dab in the middle of becoming a Beth Millner Jewelry ambassador. For a while I wasn’t sure if it was the worst timing or the best timing when I was chosen, but then I realized that this is exactly how life goes: you don’t get to choose the timing of your life’s challenges or your opportunities. You only have control on how you choose to think about them, and how or if you decide to act upon them. For instance, I could say that breast cancer is the worst thing or the best thing that’s happened to me, because both are true. Surgery and chemo aren’t exactly things that folks rush to sign up for, but at the same time, that’s exactly what it took to discover how many angels I have in my corner and how kind and generous and thoughtful the world can be.
Now that I’m approaching Week 8 of the 12-Week Chemo Marathon that I never wanted to sign up for, sponsored by the club I’d never wanted to join (breast cancer), I have realized a personal truth: marathons suck. I mean, I’m sure there’s at least one person out there who loves running so much that they look forward to beating the crap out of their bodies for miles and miles, and that maybe there’s some weird runner’s euphoria I’ve yet to tap into, but dang! Not gonna lie, it was easier at the beginning when you’re at the starting line and there are a gazillion of your bystander peeps watching you and cheering you on. And I’m sure there will be just as many there waiting for me to cross the finish line. But when you’re on mile 8 of 12, and there aren’t as many people on the sidelines watching you anymore, your running gets pretty ugly, and so do your thoughts.
And speaking of that, there’s nothing that’ll stir up your notions of beauty and ugliness quite like a nice round of balding chemo. But then again, that’s the whole point of this story, a reminder that we have total control of how we choose to see something, and we can either seize an opportunity or let it pass us by.
I don’t know about you, but since I didn’t plan on having all my hair fall out multiple times in my life, I figured now was the chance to turn a few lemons into lemonade.
It was a few weeks ago when I was able to start pulling all my hair out in clumps, pretty much right on schedule, around “mile 4” in the marathon. I knew that as hard as it was, I’d need to make peace with saying goodbye to my hair, as “unpretty” as that might make me feel, and I’d had a brilliant idea that would distract me enough to get through at least the next few miles.
I was going to laugh my way through the entire thing, and I was going to make sure that someone else benefited from it, too.
And that’s just what I did. I went out on social media and told all my friends that for every $20 they donated, that they’d get their names put in a hat for a big drawing, and that the person whose name was drawn would get the honor of choosing the design that my Mumma would draw on the back of my bald head, once I’d shaved off all my hair. The proceeds were split equally between the Delta County Cancer Alliance and Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County. Together my angels raised nearly $2,500 to split between two of my favorite charities!
It took me three haircuts this year to get to my bald canvas. Those of you who knew me six months ago knew that I had long hair down to my lower back, so my hair was a big part of my identity. I donated the first foot of it to Children With Hair Loss, so that someone else would be able to wear a wig that I was able to grow for them myself. I’d done this once before and had decided that once my hair reaches a certain length, I’m going to keep doing this until I’m no longer around to keep growing it. Think of all the wigs that’ll be out in the world after so many years! Makes me smile.
My second haircut party was going from my shortened bob haircut length to tomboy length, which was surprisingly harder than going pool-cue bald. Maybe it reminded me of the last time I’d had my hair this short in second grade, a little kid mistook me for a boy, and my psyche never recovered. Maybe it’s because I just don’t think short, short hair is all that flattering on me. Whatever the reason, I had to power-smile my way through that entire week before the real shave took place, and that gave me a clean slate in more ways than one.
Nothing says “I love you” quite like your good hairdresser friend agreeing to turn you into a bowling ball (I’ve been told I have a perfectly round head) and your 75-year-old mom agreeing to draw something on the back of your head for charity. And that’s exactly what they did. The gal whose name had been drawn wanted a hummingbird and a pink breast cancer ribbon in the design, and considering that the canvas was moveable skin covered in a light stubble, I think my mom really kicked ass on the finished product!
It’s been two weeks running around my corner of the world with no hair, and the part I haven’t mentioned until now, because I’ve been too busy pretending that being bald is a complete hoot and a hilarious adventure, is that oh boy, there are days when I feel sooooooo ugly. I’ve put a few pics of my new style out on social media, and many folks have commented on how beautiful I look. But I don’t really believe them. I’m convinced that they’re saying it just to make me feel better, because, you know, Mile 8. The part where I’m “ugly running” and people don’t have time to sit there on the sidelines and cheer me on every second of the day because they have their own lives to live.
I knew without a doubt that I’d have ugly days throughout this marathon. The thing is, even when you know there will be struggles uphill, sometimes you don’t see them coming until you’re right smack dab in the middle of one. And all you can do is acknowledge the hill, suck it up, buttercup, and keep plodding because sooner or later the ground will be level again.
The beauty I’ve been able to take with me on this marathon since the beginning is my Beth Millner pieces. Whether I’ve had long hair or short hair or no hair, they’ve been with me for the full marathon, like a talisman protecting me from feeling ugly or from feeling like a complete failure. They remind me of so many life lessons I want to learn this time around. When I head into each chemo mile marker, I’ve got a different work of art accompanying me. One week it’s my bumblebee pedant, reminding me to keep busy and to keep moving. The next it might be my heart pendant, reminding me of all the love and support I’m taking with me into each of these sessions. Another is my butterfly collection, representing the changes that I’m going through. Maybe I’m feeling ugly at this stage of my journey because that’s how it’s supposed to go, like how the caterpillar might feel before it cocoons. But look at how I’ll be transformed at the end of this marathon!
I’m looking forward to sharing with you my finish line, my transformation, and my story as it continues to unfold. I’ve always said that my purpose is to lead such an unusual and interesting life so that I’ll have really good stories to tell when I’m 100 years old in the nursing home, and boy, is this year ever producing! Thank you, my angels and cheerleaders, for placing yourselves along my marathon route and rooting for me.
Coincidentally, next week you could literally cheer me on, if you’re in the Escanaba-Gladstone area. My husband Todd and godson Noah and I are all “competing” in the MISH mini-triathlon on August 27. Noah will be doing the 3-mile kayak portion, I will be biking 13.5 miles, and Todd will be running the 5k finale. I’m not sure I’ll be breaking any records for speed on Saturday, but you can most assuredly count on me not being a quitter.
Let’s go, Team G!
Be happy, be well.