reflection

Empty Hands

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Hello: it’s been a while.

In truth, I thought I’d have good news to share by now. A few things have been in the works for months. And so I have waited, like a child peeking around the corner, hoping to bring you something thoughtful and handmade to show off my craftiness, my perseverance, how hard I’ve worked.

Instead, I’m coming to you now with empty hands. Hands that are a bit unsteady, nails certainly unpolished, perhaps a bit embarrassed with nothing to show for myself.

Even without news, a lot has changed.

While I won’t get into the details, I will share that I’ve lost something that was a huge part of my life and was even before cancer. This seismic shift went unacknowledged by most others involved, leaving me to wonder if it really unraveled the way I experienced it. It reminds me of the TS Eliot poem: not with a bang, but with a whimper. But I was there. Others may have been left unscathed, but I am not.

What should have been a relatively insignificant event also became really impactful this week: I had a haircut. What I failed to realize is how oddly my hair had grown in after going white from Votrient. Different spots on my head grew in at different rates. Before I knew it, the inches of growth I fought so hard for were falling around me in piles. What remained was a buzzcut to make it all even.

Hair is so critical to our identities, and what hurt most is that I wasn’t expecting it. My natural color is back in full force for the first time since I was 17, a time when I was painfully awkward and unsure of myself, desperately waiting for my life to start. It felt full circle: here I am, over a decade later, feeling the same uncomfortable things all over again. So I did what I do best: I cried for two days. I let myself feel sad and awkward and seventeen and angsty. Then I ordered a wig and had a dear friend help me style it until I felt comfortable. The wig has been a huge blessing. It’s helped me regain my confidence, feel relatively normal, and stopped people from staring at me as I walked my dog. (I’ll try to give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they didn’t recognize me. But the heat of a stare in a small town will make the hair on your neck stand up, I’ll tell you that.)

Why type away while I have seemingly nothing to really report? Well, one, to tell you I’m still here. (Which, I suppose, is always worth mentioning when the majority of your writing is about your health.) Two, to share that sometimes cancer is about waiting and patience. It’s neither the incredible celebration or the devastating scan result: it just is. More than anything, I write because of a sentiment Elizabeth Gilbert shared in an interview with the Good Life Project podcast:

“I like learning in public and growing in public, because I think that it’s a service. Because the people who are kind enough to learn in public in front of me have helped me enormously to change my own life. The turn around time for how long is between when I have a revelation or an epiphany and I want to share it can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, but it’s there and if I don’t share it, it feels burdensome on me. I think in the same way in the same way any talent you have that you don’t use becomes a burden, any information that you have about how you survive this journey on Earth that you don’t share is a burden. It’s a burden on you, because it’s meant to be out there.”

I won’t fool myself into believing I’m sharing things worthy of the words revelation or epiphany. But I am, truly, hoping that these words can be a field guild for someone else. At the very least, maybe I can or validate someone else’s grief at their loss of identity, or crying over their hair, or agonizing over the need to wait.

And in the meantime, I’ll be waiting here with my empty hands, hoping and trusting beyond reason that someday soon, they’ll be filled.