Bald and Naked. The Power and Beauty of Vulnerability

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February 13, 2016

liz9.jpgOne of the bright spots of my cancer diagnosis is that, over the years, I have met the most amazing people. 

Cancer warriors generally rock because it changes you and your entire life focus in an instant, and that’s usually a good thing. One such person I met during my journey is Pat who blogged at www.multiplemyelomablog.com. I took a lot of comfort in Pat’s writings because he gave knowledge, hope and cheer.

Pat was often interviewed and during one, he teared up and said that he was on bonus time and that every day was a gift. He no longer feared things he once did—like walking down dark allies or airplane turbulence. No more sweating the small stuff. I am sad to report that Pat lost his battle with myeloma earlier this week due to complications from chemo. His powerful life and lessons remain.

Like Pat, I, too, fear life less these days. Pre diagnosis, turbulence terrified me, I hated birthdays because I was getting older and a step closer to death, heights made my palms sweat, and I approached life with an abundance of caution. I stayed in my dysfunctional and abusive marriage too long because I was afraid to leave it. I never did open my cupcake shop or doggy daycare center because… you guessed it, fear. Fear of failure. Fear that I would become more dependent on my husband, a man I grew to loathe more each day. I obsessed with the number of increasing grey hairs and wrinkles, realizing that I was getting older, which meant that employers would like me less, if I left my husband it would be harder to attract a date, and what if I didn’t have enough money to retire. Fear literally ruled everything I did.

And then cancer. Just like that, changed from fearful to fearless. True, I feared cancer, to an extent, except I knew in my gut I would beat it. I no longer was afraid of my husband. I left him, nothing was worth living another day with a tyrant. I didn’t fear the divorce. I stood in truth and courage and I looked forward to my day in court. I had a birthday (actually, I’ve had four more birthdays since cancer) and I celebrated each one joyfully (including the birthday I spent in the hospital). I might be getting older, I told myself, but, yay, I was still alive. On a flight to Copenhagen, we hit horrible turbulence. I didn’t even flinch. When I started dating again, I was just ME. I didn’t try to hide who I was, not my illness or my past, nothing. I was proud of my warrior status. I thought I was kind and honest and thoughtful. I was hardworking and loyal, sarcastic and demanding of myself and others. It was all there, like it or leave it, I was done pretending anything.

Liberating it felt. And it was good. Make that terrific.

My fearless status enabled me to do all kinds of things outside of my comfort zone, like skydiving and paragliding, climbing hard trails, skiing runs that were maybe above my skill level, and dating in a new, different and very authentic way. I left my religion and found a church that I, and my children, love. I'll tell you that leaving a religion you grew up with is gut-wrenching but in this case, was worth it.

With my cancer, I achieved remission and life was good. And then I relapsed and life became hard again. I re-entered treatment. I lost all my hair and my eyelashes. But this time, things were different. The first time I went bald, I never let anyone see me without a wig. But this time I had a new husband. Would I let him see me this vulnerable? Because baldness, at least for this girl, is far more “naked” than being, well, naked. I did. There I was, as bad as it gets—too thin, no hair, no eyelashes and thinning eyebrows. Throwing up every day. Struggling to eat food. Not putting laundry away. Would he leave me? Would he think less of me?

Turns out, no. He claims that I’m still beautiful. I disagree. I see a wounded, battle-scarred warrior. My eyelashes are growing back, my eyebrows not yet, my hair now has dark brown soft fuzz on top. I wash it with baby shampoo. I still wear wigs but sometimes, I am confident enough to head out in just a hat. My clothes are all too big. But I get up each day, grateful that I feel better, grateful that I’m alive, and ready to keep living fearlessly.

We booked a trip to Costa Rica and the Zika virus warnings are out. I’m not pregnant, nor do I ever intend on getting pregnant again. But… do we go? Do we cancel the trip and go elsewhere? The answer is no. I will not live this way. I suppose I’d rather die of Zika than sitting in my house watching TV. I’d rather seize life and everything that it throws my way, good or bad. Life can be tough, but I am tougher. It's amazing how strong we can be when we must. It's in there, we just have to take a deep breathe and find our inner warrior.

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