There have been times in my life when, like it or not and beyond my control, my identity was reduced to a single fact:
- the girl with the dead sister
- the girl who lost the love of her life
- cancer girl
From the moment others learned of these events, in their eyes I was transformed, flattened from a multi-dimensional, sometimes larger-than-life person to that one single fact. I could tell it was happening by the all-too-earnest, searching expressions –“Oh my God. How will you survive this?” — I saw when I told people what was going on with me. Vanished in an instant was all that had come before, all the other qualities that made me me — the fearless writer, passionate activist and champion of all causes, the confidante, lover and friend.
I was now Cancer Girl.
It’s a fine a line. You want people to acknowledge that something unfair, something horrible has happened to you. You want the attention and the concern, the offers of rides to treatments and a shoulder to cry on. Yes, for now, cancer is ever present in your mind, and you want it to have the attention of your support network. But you don’t want it to define you, to turn you into nothing more than Cancer Girl. I wanted the hugs, the shows of support; I hated the stares, the probing looks, the sense that I had vanished and Cancer Girl had taken over.
Sometimes the battles are not the ones we expect. I expected to fight an illness. I never expected that fight would include showing those around me that I was still me, that I was more than this disease. In some ways, it made me go to the other extreme, pretend that it was nothing. So many times, I heard myself try to assuage other people’s discomfort with, “I’m fine. I’m going to be fine.” Once, I even heard myself say I would channel my inner New Yorker and “power through” the cancer. Every second, I found myself fighting Cancer Girl. I continued to work at the same pace even when deep down I was exhausted. I adopted that old “never let ‘em see you sweat” mentality in the hopes that my flattened image would emerge again as three-dimensional to those around me. It was a mistake; it meant denying my feelings of fear, fatigue, sorrow and panic.
So finally, I let Cancer Girl win. I embraced her. I was Cancer Girl — for now.
Once I did that, I was empowered. Cancer Girl let me explore my feelings and see myself more clearly — my options with cancer and for my life beyond it. I rediscovered parts of me I had subdued in my pre-cancer life like my unwavering courage, my once youthful sense of invincibility, the belief that I really can craft my own destiny.
There are lots of things that have shaped me — cancer is now one of them. And Cancer Girl has kind of become my superhero, a woman who can face the toughest challenge of her life with dignity and grace, humor, and most importantly, grit.
Lots and lots of grit.Share: