How Cancer Helped Me Answer 3 Questions

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I want to take a trip down memory lane for a bit and give you all a snapshot of how I got here, writing this blog. I say snapshot because it would take an entire year to tell you how 2017/2018 changed me in ways that I never anticipated.

We all have things in our lives that challenge us. Some say that if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. For me, that challenge came in May 2017 when I was abruptly diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

Cancer is not something that I ever imagined would affect me. Call it the myth of invincibility, call it naivety. But whatever the reason, I was shocked when my doctor called and told me that I had cancer.

What is interesting is that my fear did not stem from the diagnosis itself. My fear came when I realized that my treatment would mean that I would lose my hair.

For some of you reading this, that may seem trivial. It’s just hair after all. It’s pretty self-centered to be so concerned about losing my hair when I was just diagnosed with something that might kill me.

Let me explain.

How Hair Loss Challenged My Identity

Hair to me signified beauty. In my life, when I could count on no other part of me, I could always count on my beauty. Now that is not to say that I was, or am beautiful in any way. It’s just that I didn’t think I was smart, or funny, or creative, or anything that gives other people worth.

What I knew was that I had really nice hair, and that hair gave everyone the illusion of beauty. I was constantly complimented on my hair. As a kid, I was always told I was cute. I made my mom put my hair in curlers every night so that I would wake up with long, curly, golden locks.

So when I lost my hair, I felt like nothing. My anxiety soared to a level that I didn’t even recognize. Without my mask (i.e. my hair), I would be exposed. Now everyone would not be looking at me as the tall, thin, pretty blonde. They would have to listen to my words and see my actions. This was for sure going to expose me as the fraud that I already thought that I was. Everyone would know for certain that I have no idea about anything.

The day I shaved my head was the day that my old self died. That sounds dramatic, but looking back it is accurate.

Watching the last follicles fall out of my head marked a new beginning for me, although I didn’t know it at the time.

How Cancer Brought Vulnerability

I don’t like to be a victim. I hate it when people feel sorry for me. My goal was to avoid that at all costs. So what I did was what came naturally to me.

I started joking.

Humor has always been my greatest defense mechanism. It is a great way to deflect from what is really going on. And my humor is that of sarcasm and dry cynicism.

If you listen to my podcast (The MindGal Podcast), you know that my day job is a School Counselor. You can imagine the dread of leaving the year in June with a full head of hair and coming back in August bald. I didn’t want to deal with all the questions, so I did something I have never done before. I lived out loud.

I started talking about how my bald head made me feel. I talked about my fears and all of the demons I was fighting. I talked about things I previously kept inside under lock and key. What I found was that talking about my fears took away their power.

Vulnerability is a funny thing. It is both the scariest and the most empowering emotion that anyone can have. But it was in that vulnerability that I started to discover who I was. Out of necessity more than anything. I could no longer hide behind my appearance, and cancer was as good as an excuse as any to try new things and fail. After all, people would blame the cancer, not me right?

How Cancer Brought Me Back to Writing 

So I started a blog chronicling my entire journey from diagnosis to last days of treatment, and everything in between. It is written in dry humor, just like me. But it is real. Writing felt so cathartic

I used to write when I was a kid. In fact, my 3rd-grade student teacher wrote in my yearbook that she one day will see a book that I publish. From as young as I can remember I have been journaling. But it wasn’t until cancer that I really started writing again as an adult.

I had forgotten how much I loved it. To me, words come out much easier on paper than they do verbally. My blog served as a way to let others come along with me on my journey without having to feel intrusive by constantly asking me questions. It was a perfect combination of privacy and exposure. An introvert’s dream.

At work, I started to take on new things. I found my voice in ways that I hadn’t before. When I got bitchy, I could just say “sorry, I have cancer.” It became a running joke at work, but one that allowed me to be me without apology.

How Cancer Brought Me Full Circle

I started chemotherapy on May 30, 2017, and I ended treatments on May 30, 2018. 365 days of self-discovery. The anxiety that I felt during this time was heightened in a way that forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. After all, a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

Through these 365 days, I became a better me. I do not believe that things happen for a reason. I believe that sometimes things just happen. It is up to us to find a reason that empowers us. I am not grateful for having cancer. I hate it when people say that. What I am grateful for is that I allowed myself to feel all of my feelings that came to the surface because of cancer.

Because I allowed myself to be in a vulnerable place, I discovered the place I should be. And that is how I got here, writing a blog about anxiety.

I know anxiety. I live it, I have studied it, I help people who suffer from it. My purpose is to help people feel empowered. I’m not sure I would have recognized that had I not gone through some pretty dark valleys.

I got a tattoo to symbolize my journey. It is a picture of pink boxing gloves with the breast cancer ribbon as the strings that hold them together. It reminds me not only of my past fight, but also to remember to always fight.

The fight to become who you are meant to be is the most worthwhile fight to have. You will get bruises. You will get knocked down. Just get right back up. Keep searching. You are worth the effort it takes to live an inspired life.

How Cancer Made Me Answer 3 Questions

Cancer helped me answer some questions that forced me to look deeper into who I am. I want to pose the same three questions to you. We all go through peaks and valleys. We all have circumstances that write chapters in our lives. As you go through your life, I want you to think about three things:

  1. What valley are you in right now?
  2. What do you want this chapter in your life to be about?
  3. How can you use this story to empower you?

 

Monica Pitek-Fugedi

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