Being bald never bothered me. Unless I was cold, no hat adorned my head. No wigs purchased. When people stared or looked away sadly, I knew it was more about them not wanting to think about their own mortality than my bald head. Because of my baldness, I met some wonderful, brave women who approached me with their own breast cancer stories giving me understanding and hope in the frozen food aisle or coffee shop.
It wasn’t brave or courageous walking around with my bald head shining up the room – it was actually freeing. I quickly realized how much of my self worth had been wrapped up in what kind of “hair day” I was having. So much time and money wasted caring for and worrying about my hair. I no longer had that piece of armor and I felt free. Unlike Samson, I actually gained strength from losing my hair.
It eventually grew back…thinner, curlier, grayer and with a bald spot in the back of my hair thanks to my friend Taxotere – a chemo drug known to make it harder for hair to grow back. I often forget about my bald spot. It is in the back of my head, not very big and honestly a small price to pay to be cancer free.
Recently on a gorgeous Spring day, we hiked to a rock outcrop off the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooking the mountains. Sitting on that rock, taking deep breaths and meditating filled me with gratitude for my life. As usual, when hiking, I felt strong and beautiful and blessed. The chill of the morning forest was making room for the afternoon sun to warm the rock and I took off my hat to cool off. At that moment, my husband yelled, “I can see your bald spot – put your hat back on.” Huh?
I turned around and realized he was taking pictures. He told me he thought the shot would look great on my new website, but apparently, not with a bald spot. My husband is the least vain person I know, but he and almost immediately, I, got sucked into the “don’t show a flaw” mode. If I am going to be a life coach and help others find their authentic selves and live a more joy filled life, how could I possibly represent that with a bald spot in my hair? What??? How is a bald spot left by chemotherapy a flaw? Why would it be any reflection on what type of person I am or how good a life coach I could be? And yet, I put that hat back on my head and he took more pictures. When we posted the pictures on my website, I chose the one with my hat safely covering my bald spot. Why??
Because I am a human. I have spent far too much energy in my life worrying about what I presented to the outside world. Years of trying to please others, over doing, second-guessing my gut instincts to find my own worth. It almost broke me. I had to find another way. My cancer journey took me away from all of that need for outside approval. My inner voice came screaming out of its dormant state and I started to know myself in a way I never had before. I was sick, tired, weak, and bald and I never felt stronger.
Yet, here I was six years later, afraid to put a picture with my bald spot out into the world. How could complete baldness be a strength and a small bald spot somehow dim my light? Is the bald spot not a lasting symbol of my fight with cancer? Is it not a symbol of me finding my inner strength?
Here’s the thing, we are all works in progress. So, I slip back into my old ways at times. When choosing that picture, I let myself be vain, worried about what other people would think, felt ashamed of a part of my body that felt flawed by some unachievable societal standard. It can be hard to face life head on, to sit with our emotions and really feel them. In the past, I would have pushed those bad feelings about myself deeper inside me, avoiding them with a glass of wine, or over doing, trying to please others and prove worthiness to myself.
I’ve learned if I can’t be present with the hard emotions then I am usually not able to be fully present with the fun emotions. Life is too hard and too short to not be fully present in sadness and in joy. Thankfully, my life has taught me I am enough. I know I am worth examining my feelings and learning from them. I got honest with myself about why this picture of my bald spot was bothering me, told one other person, forgave myself and moved on. Instead of continuing to suppress my negative feelings toward my bald spot, instead of continuing to let myself feel less than, I was able to face what I was feeling and figure out why I felt this way. In the end, I gave myself the gift of realizing this small bald spot represents strength, not weakness.
How about you? What is your bald spot?