“He calls me beautiful one.”
-Song of Solomon 2:13
Cancer means sickness, that much is obvious. What you may not think about upon diagnosis, however, are the losses and rules in your life you will now have hand-delivered to you by cancer, because a tumor taking up residence in your brain isn’t enough to deal with. Chemo and radiation, I’ve noticed, are far less significant to my mental health than still feeling like “me”. During my first day of radiation, my mother had me change into a hospital gown, concerned the neck of my sweater was too high and would interfere with the treatment. She sent a huffy young woman into the dressing room; what she got back was a mess of tears and complaints, sniffled through sobs. Looking at myself in the mirror, I wasn’t me. I was a brain cancer patient, a sickly girl woefully unequipped to climb the mountain she was facing. My mother, for the sake of us both, let me change back before praying with me, reminding me that while I am unequipped, God isn’t. The incident left me with a realization: as important as it has been to me that those around me maintained some sense of normalcy, I craved that feeling too. I wanted to know that, despite my circumstances and what I was going through, I was still me. Having over a golf ball sized chunk of brain mass removed from your skull during a six hour surgery leaves you wondering if you’re all still there, and once you figure out you are, its a feeling you want to hold on to. Each morning, though I’m home alone and the only people I’ll see outside of my family that day are my radiation techs, I get ready the same way I did when I was attending classes on campus. Things have changed: I can’t use certain creams or foundations due to radiation, the dark circles under my eyes have grown (despite my frequent naps from radiation exhaustion), and there’s far less hair to style; but I am still me.
The Bible tells women that “true beauty begins inside,” that our beauty “should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.” This in mind, I gathered myself after my diagnosis and focused inward; if I am fortified and beautiful inside, my outward changes will have less effect on my outlook. As a medical student and avid internet learner, I wasn’t shocked at the suggestion of losing my hair. If anything, I was determined: this was merely another obstacle in my journey for me to overcome, something God was using to turn my focus inward. Shortly after surgery, left home-bound and bored, I began looking up pixie cuts I thought would fit my face, sending my boyfriend and family members each one for their opinion. I made the decision to donate my eleven plus inches to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, which works with the American Cancer Society to provide free wigs to adult cancer patients. Just because I no longer consider my hair my “crowning glory” and am ready to let go, does not mean another woman has made the same decision, and it was very important to me to help the others I now share an unconventional camaraderie with. Small gestures can change someone’s life during a time like this; I only hope my hair would do the same. And no, Dad, I’m not just doing it to get my own hair back as a wig!
This led to me, sitting in my stylist’s chair two weeks ago, hair cut to my neck, showing her photos of my desired hairstyle. “This is short!” she declared, as if I hadn’t noticed, then turning to my mother for nervous backup. “Lana, this is short! This is, like, an inch!” My mother merely smiled back and nodded, and the cutting began. As someone who has never rocked a haircut above shoulder level in my life, razors and scissors so close to my ear were a more precarious procedure than brain surgery. Or so it seemed, as I was unconscious during the latter. The final result was exactly what I wanted: short, sassy, easy to manage. While I do miss the curls and comfort of longer tresses at times, I don’t miss the time or effort. I certainly won’t miss it as it starts to go. Two weeks into radiation, I am already seeing the slightest thinning of my longer swath of hair, left that way to cover my scar, which, ironically, is where the effects of radiation hair loss will be most compounded. Each time I run my hand through the wet strands in the shower, I come out with a collection of golden hair between my fingers, lying as lackluster and lifeless as strands of thread. Though it isn’t easy to watch yourself begin to bald at twenty (I don’t want to look like my old man that much!), five inches are easier to lose than twenty-something. My hair may no longer be my crowning glory, but that’s fine. I’ve traded in my crown for battle gear. I have been chosen for such a time as this to become a warrior: a member of the army of God and in my fight against cancer. I am sure I will soon lose my hair, my skin may be jaundiced, I may wear my exhaustion on my face, but I will glow with the beauty of being a child of God from the inside out. Don’t wait to work on your inner beauty until the you are under the threat of having your outer beauty stripped away. Use His light to beautify yourself within as well, and you will be considered beautiful, prepared for all life has in store for you as an ambassador of God.