Fearless Girl

The Fearless Girl is a bronze statue created by Kristen Visbal. The statue has come to symbolize progress and equity for women. The reason for her existence is much less inspiring. A large asset management company known as State Street Global Advisors commissioned it to advertise an index fund. Sure, it also promoted female empowerment and aligned well with International Women’s Day, but the initial motivation of the asset company makes its origins more of an advertising stunt. It was conveniently installed directly opposite of the famous Charging Bull statue of Wall Street which added drama in more ways than expected. Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor of the bull statue, complained about the deliberate placement of the girl statue, and she was eventually moved to a different spot in front of the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan.

My opinion is her new location is better because all the focus is on her. There is nothing to detract away from her. Those who see her can connect with personal stories and interpretations about what she stands against fearlessly. It makes her more fearless in my eyes.

Image credit: pixabay.com

I believe Fearless Girl represents many favorable qualities. She embodies a confidence and indomitable will. There is something unmovable about her other than her 250 pound weight. It’s her stance with her hands on her hips and the determined look in her eyes. Although small, she is an image of strength and might. Can we all be her? I think the answer is we can.

Images of confidence, determination, and strength are important for me as I go about living with cancer. I muster up courage for office visits. I know what I have on my agenda. I attempt to hold my head high as I go about trying to pull off a persona of confidence, determination, and strength even though I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know if my inner and outer vibes match. I try and keep trying.

Granite is my chosen word for 2021. It came from an unexpected ending to a poem I wrote. It’s known as a hard, igneous rock. Granite is made up mainly of quartz, mica, and feldspar. Symbolically, it’s associated with strength, abundance, and protection. Because of its durability, granite has a long lifespan. Therefore, granite also represents longevity. It’s a good word for me this year to picture myself as a strong rock that will withstand wear and tear. I am durable. Like granite, I have longevity. I want longevity on my side. My image of granite strikes me as fearless.

What does it mean to be fearless with cancer?

I’m not sure. Fear is a normal and expected part of it. I don’t believe those who say they aren’t or weren’t afraid. Knowledge makes me less fearful, but I still feel fear. Being scared is okay. For me, being scared makes me more fearless. People call me strong or brave. All I’m doing is walking through the fear. It pops up even with non cancery things. I face it. Whereas I doubt I can eliminate it entirely, I know how to lessen it.

Tests and scans provide information and direction. Knowledge, information, and my feelings support me as a patient. I need the tests to plan for treatment. My mom didn’t want lots of tests when she had cancer. It presented even more unknowns and made it a lot harder to treat a cancer that returned metastasized. I believe my mom was fearless in her own way. It’s too emotional for me to put words to how I believe she faced her diagnosis. She didn’t talk much about what was happening. It was so emotionally and then physically painful for her. I’m sure my status factored into it. All I have are my observations and own feelings. My point is everyone works with fear.

Support makes me more fearless. I feel less alone when I share how I feel with people I trust. I feel less alone when others let me know they’ve been through something similar and feel similar feelings. My true friends are the best. Phone calls, emails, texts, and messages are treasured means of connections in this COVID world. Checking in and listening are huge comforts to me. We all need such support. As a writer, my voice has more power through my words. Blogging is a platform where I can reach out and share what’s on my mind. I appreciate the support I receive through those who read my work.

Being fearless as a patient means I ask questions. I research and learn. I speak up and say what I need, what works and what doesn’t. I am a part of my team and participate in decisions. I know I’ve weighed decisions thoroughly and made them in my best interests. My body goes through a lot. A wide range of emotions are felt. My voice gets heard. I can get upset and often have tears, but this is one of the ways I walk through fear. Tears do not make me a weaker person or less abled patient. They get me somewhere I need to be.

Living the way I want to live makes me fearless. Many of my plans have changed. Somewhere I learned not depend on others in order for me to do what I wanted. Independence has served me well seeing as I’m on my own living with cancer. I am thankful for my successful teaching career and the ability to support myself. So much is taken away with metastatic breast cancer. I certainly have given things up. I am grateful I am able to be independent, have a home I love where I feel safe, and the ability to set and achieve a few goals. I want to be seen, make a difference, and feel connected. I refuse to hide and wait for the next problem to present itself. I don’t want pity or to be told how I should be living based on what others have done. I am well aware that events in my life aren’t always pretty. It seems I struggle more than I’d like with what I think should be a lot easier. I believe we all have these moments. It’s how we handle them that can define ourselves as fearless or fearful.

Cancer is an invisible fear that shows up in visible ways. It creeps slowly at first when life hasn’t changed much. Then you qualify for disability and your health takes precedence over your career. There are medicines and side effects. There are many private tears and fake smiles. There are uncertainties and fear itself. There isn’t a day it isn’t there in some form. I stand as fearlessly as I can against the fear, scans, progression, and dwindling options, while always hoping for a cure. I stand with others against losing 119 a day in the U.S. These are our friends, relatives, coworkers, and others we’ve come to know dearly along the way through our shared misery.

I have a DOVE chocolate wrapper on my refrigerator with an inside message that reads to be fearlessly authentic. A wonderful thing happens with aging – you learn to be truer to yourself. I was more confident in my 30s than my 20s, my 40s than my 30s, and I would expect the same to be true in my 50s. We figure more out with each year. I’ve become more expressive of my opinions. I’m not willing to tolerate certain opinions or behaviors of others that violate my values. I am in a place in my life where I do what I want if nothing is standing in my way. I remove obstacles when possible. In terms of blogging, I write about what I want. It isn’t always about cancer, but usually there is a connection tying the piece together. I read a number of blogs and do too much comparing of others to mine in terms of definitions of success. If I were to change mine, I’d have to compromise my authenticity here, and I’m not willing to change me or my craft to fit in falsely somewhere else. There may be some cosmetic changes but the real me is at the core of the writing.

I never have been one to change to fit in. Most of the time I don’t think I fit in very well. It has become less important the older I get. Cancer has opened my eyes to myself even more. I’m authentic to myself and know who I am. Introverted and private with most, but I know my inner workings well and how I move best through the world. I know what traits I value. I try to demonstrate those and surround myself with like company. My personality and abilities as a teacher shined in the classroom. I believe I still teach by example. My efforts in fundraising, advocacy, and any cause I find important showcase my beliefs. Writing and photography presently reflect my authentic self. I am far from perfect. My imperfections may be some of the most authentic parts about me. In these ways, I embody my fearless girl authentically.

How are you fearless?

How are you fearlessly authentic?

What goes into being a fearless patient?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wigs and Cancer

How much do I have to say about wigs? I’m not even wearing one thanks to my cold cap. Surprisingly, I still have quite a lot to say. I have four wigs. Three of them work well for me.

My experiences at the wig salon located within the Carbone Cancer Center have been wonderful. Over the last eight plus years, my stylist Stephanie has been warm, empathetic, helpful, and has made a real connection with me. She is interested in my life, not just my life with cancer.

Because of our friendship, I’ve done a couple of interviews recently to help promote the wig salon. My main goal was to emphasize the high-quality wigs and personalized service provided there. Inevitably, the reporters also wanted to talk about my story. Both interviews have happened when I’m not currently wigging which made them slightly awkward for me. I feel it pulls away from the focus of highlighting the wig program offered. It’s pretty easy for someone with hair to talk about her memories. I can’t help but think of myself as hypocritical. Admittedly, I do not understand when others walk down memory lane and sound wistful. I just don’t get it. Perhaps someone currently going through chemo induced hair loss would have told a more poignant story for my most recent interview. Anyway, I’ve tried in each of them to come back to the role wigs have had in my experience.

My last interview was done over the phone. I was asked how wearing a wig made me feel. Did it make me feel more normal? I knew what the student journalist was asking, yet normal wasn’t the right word. I know I’ve used the word normal before to describe how wearing a wig made me feel, but the thing is it’s all relative.

When I first dabbled with the choice to wear a wig or not, I did not wear one. I hated it. Wraps made me feel normal. Being bald from time to time made me feel normal. Later in life when faced with hair loss again, a wig made me feel more normal. Comparing these two situations, I figured out what I really meant by feeling normal.

Normal meant comfortable. At one point in my life I was more comfortable in wraps and scarves. Another time I was more comfortable in a wig. I was in different places with different comfort levels. Comfort in this instance means both emotional and physical comfort. A wig was a physical manifestation that brought me inner comfort. It was easy to wear.

There was safety in that comfort.

Digging deeper, I realize the word normal also correlated with a need for privacy. I wanted to go about my business without drawing attention to myself. Losing hair is such a public side effect of cancer. Wearing a good wig made me feel less on display. I was able to keep my private life more private to those who didn’t know me. I looked like everyone else and that is where the word normal fits because it is a norm for women to have hair.

There is also safety in that privacy.

Safety is a big thing for me. Cancer doesn’t make me feel safe.

Another question I was asked was whether wearing a wig made me feel more confident. I know I’ve also used this word in the past to describe wearing a wig. During the second interview, I realized confident was not the right word either. I felt the journalist wanted me to use it per the way she was asking the question. I also felt like I wasn’t giving her what she wanted, but I couldn’t agree with her if I wasn’t feeling it. In the end, the published article made only a passing reference to me with a supporting comment I provided about the wig stylist. That’s fine as the wigs and stylist really were the focus. I benefited from our conversation because I finally figured out my feelings on wigs.

Wigs absolutely can make someone feel more confident. Couldn’t they also make someone feel like a fraud? Again, it’s all relative. I struggled when someone commented how nice my short hair (wig) looked years ago in church and thought it was probably so much easier to style. Sure, it was easier, I took it off a wig stand each morning and that was pretty much it. But I said thank you and left it there. I didn’t know her well enough to confide more.

Confidence doesn’t hinge on whether someone has hair or not. I was confident enough being bald. I just didn’t want to be bald. I wanted to have options. It takes confidence to be seen without a wig and not a hair on your head. I was confident enough in wraps and scarves. It takes confidence to know you are rocking your wrap. Confidence is internal. I think it’s based on your personality and a person’s experiences.

If I had been asked about how metastatic cancer steals identity, I would have a lot to say. The same would hold true if I had been asked how metastatic cancer affects my confidence. My sense of identity and confidence have changed throughout my years living with cancer. Sometimes I’ve been a mess. Other times I feel I know a few things about myself and about life. I wobble. I reset. My thoughts can drive me crazy within the course of one day.

I have been comfortable in a wrap, being bald, and in a wig. I’m extremely comfortable with my own hair. Go figure. Normal is as normal does. Normal can be felt at each of these times. Everyone knows what normal feels like and yet it can be hard to put into words. I have felt privacy consistently only in a wig and when my hair has been long enough to be wild and crazy. Comfort and privacy go a long way in helping me feel normal.