By Desirée A. H. Walker
Have you heard the phrase “own your truth”? As I prepared to undergo treatment for a breast cancer recurrence, I wrestled with what my truth was.
It is fair to say a cancer diagnosis makes you uncomfortable — it places your realities front and center, pressures you to think about what matters, and requires lots of decision-making. Although my only surgical option was a mastectomy, since this was my second diagnosis in the same breast, I had to decide whether to have a single or double mastectomy. I wanted to do all I could to avoid hearing the words “you have breast cancer” for a third time.
I did choose to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, as I was not mentally prepared to go flat. During my consultation with my medical oncologist, she strongly recommended chemotherapy since this was a recurrence and a more aggressive breast cancer. When I heard “aggressive breast cancer” and “chemotherapy” in the same sentence, I knew a conversation about my hair loss was coming.
I must tell you hearing that I would be bald by my second treatment was yet another hard pill to swallow — not because I loved my hair more than life, but it was a part of my identity. Yes, I was that person who frequently spent hours at a natural hair salon getting my long locs washed, conditioned, retwisted, and styled with an occasional color and trim. My loctician’s creativity gave me hairstyles that were conversation starters.
Since one of the drug regimens would be taken for a year, the thought of being bald made me uneasy. How would I mentally prepare to go from long locs to a smooth scalp? I wondered if my self-esteem would take a hit. Would I see myself as beautiful? Would people still consider me feminine? Would people know I have cancer and feel sorry for me? (At the time of my diagnosis, it was not as common for women to rock bald heads without medical reasons as it is today.)
My thoughts were not uncommon for cancer patients, as most people are visual. I bet you would agree that people make assumptions based on what they see and desire things to be visually appealing, although definitions can vary from one person to another.
I was proactive about going bald, and I cut my locs rather than witness them falling out. I have disliked everything about wigs since childhood, so that was not an option. But I did not plan to show my baldness. Hats were my solution, since I love them and would enjoy buying more. It was springtime when I cut off my hair, so I wore hats for a few weeks as my scalp adjusted to the coolness.
However, one hot day, I decided to be bold and venture out without a hat. As I walked down the street, I passed a disheveled woman and heard her say “Miss, Miss.” I thought about ignoring her because I was in a hurry and thought she was going to ask for money, but I stopped. When I turned around, she said “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I noticed you and wanted to tell you that you are rockin’ that bald head. You’re beautiful.” I thanked her. I was deeply moved! The experience shifted my mindset and allowed me to “own my truth.”
Thereafter, I boldly grieved the loss of my hair and rocked my baldness proudly with striking earrings. I redefined beauty for myself and no longer pondered whether I am beautiful or feminine. Once I embraced my new signature style, I never looked back. #BaldAndBoldlyBeautiful
Desirée A. H. Walker is a two-time breast cancer victor whose diagnoses motivated her to become a patient advocate to share her talents and aid diverse communities. She uses her platform to be a voice for the voiceless and pay forward by educating and encouraging patients to truly know their body and feel empowered to steward self, mind, body, and soul globally. Walker serves as board president, Young Survival Coalition . Learn more on her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook .
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Photo Credit: PeopleImages/ E+ via Getty Images
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By Desirée A. H. Walker