Have you been following Shannen Doherty on Instagram? If you haven’t, you should. In 2015 Shannen announced on PEOPLE that she had breast cancer. While I haven’t been a super huge fan of hers (I liked 90210 and everything, but I haven’t really kept track of her), when I heard she had cancer, I started looking up her social media accounts and found her on IG. I’ve been so inspired by her fighting spirit over the recent months. Her uplifting, optimistic, honest and raw posts make me feel grateful for where I am today.
I fought cancer in 2007-2008, and I guess you could say I feel a kinship with anyone who fights that same battle. I can relate. I know where they are because I’ve been there. Not so long ago I found myself on the receiving end of that life-altering, time-stopping conversation. I vividly remember the day I met with my doctor who calmly put his hand on my knee and said, “Well… we finally figured out why the Crohn’s meds aren’t doing what they should. You have Stage 3 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.”
The world quite literally stopped turning.
I couldn’t breathe. How could this happen to me?
I’ve already been through so much… years of battling Crohn’s disease, and then ileostomy surgery. I can’t take another blow. My doctor arranged for me to have my first chemotherapy treatment that very same day. Our whole family was in shock. I was miserable, in pain, and devastated by what I was going through.
This Halloween will mark the 9th anniversary of the night we shaved my head because hair was falling out in huge handfuls. As I’ve been watching Shannen fight her battle with all the bravery that anyone could muster, I’ve thought a lot about the things that I learned battling a disease that could have killed me.
1. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
That line comes from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Actually, he said it much more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” My first thought in response to the quote is simply: "No it doesn't," or "Tell that to a cancer patient." But I’ve come out on the other side and I can tell you that it’s true. You may not realize this right away, but as life goes on, you’ll notice many subtle ways in which you can handle so much more than before. And you’re prepared for so much more than you ever thought you would need to be ready for.
"What’s beautiful and hard and interesting about cancer is that it tears you down and builds you, and tears you down and builds you, and it remakes you so many different time.” - Shannen Doherty
2. Humanity is pretty awesome.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are plenty of reasons that one might lose faith in humanity… but having cancer showed me that humanity is actually pretty amazing. The love and support that poured out from those around me was absolutely incredible. Family and friends everywhere made sacrifices of all kinds to help us in our time of great need.
3. Shaving your head is pretty traumatic.
For a woman, having to shave your head because it’s falling out in clumps is really awful. It just adds insult to the injury of having to deal with cancer in the first place. But you know what’s pretty cool about it? Is that after it’s all over, you are left fearless when it comes to hair style. I can literally walk into a salon and let a stylist have as much fun with my hair as she wants... do whatever. Because honestly, it can’t be worse than being bald!
I lost all my body hair during chemo - head, eyebrows, legs, armpits - you name it, I was bald. It was pretty awful. I was in bed throughout most of my treatments and didn’t go out in public, so I really didn’t think very much about my bald head. I wasn’t super worried about wigs or hats, but I know there are many people who are battling cancer while trying to hold down jobs, and raise families. I don’t know about other cancer patients, but for me, the lack of eyebrows was every bit as traumatic as being bald. Maybe even more so!
I lost all my hair during chemo.. head, eyebrows, legs, armpits… you name it, I was bald. It was pretty awful. But I was in bed throughout most of my treatments, so I wasn’t super worried about wigs or hats. Once I started getting healthier, yeah, of course… and I wish I had known about more of the solutions that are out there. I recently heard about a product called “Eyebrow Wigs.” Coolest thing ever, they are made of 100% human hair and apply directly to your skin. I don’t know about other cancer fighters out there, but for me, the lack of eyebrows was every bit as traumatic as being bald. Maybe even more so! As my hair grew back and finally began to look like a little buzz cut, my eyebrows really struggled to come back, and even now, still have gaps that I have to fill in. I would have loved to have tried these out back when I was bald. I wasn’t trying to go on living a normal life while I was battling cancer, and I have so much respect for those who do. I was bedridden and not even thinking about going out in public, so I really didn’t think very much about my bald head. But I know there are many people who are battling cancer while trying to hold down jobs, and raise families.
4. Being grateful for your trials is a really, really difficult thing to do.
And for me, it wasn’t something I could accomplish until after it was over. I admire women like Shannen Doherty who are not only fighting a devastating battle, but also inspiring others to be positive and fight hard as well along the way. I can look back now and see the things I’ve learned and the ways in which I’ve grown and matured because of my trials. I only wish I could have seen that while it was happening. Maybe it would have made it just a little easier to get through. As we approach Halloween this year, I find myself grateful to be focused on costumes and trick or treating, instead of gathering with family and friends to say goodbye to my hair. As I enjoy my health and plan for our Halloween decorations, my thoughts are instinctively turned to those who are fighting battles similar to mine.
I want all of those precious souls to know, you are not alone. And even though I’ve fought my battle, my thoughts are still with you. I know what you’re going through. Everyday I’m grateful that I made it through, and I just want to help someone else do the same. If you know someone who could benefit from this article, please pass it along. My story means nothing if it doesn’t help someone else with theirs.
This post originally appeared October 10, 2016 on Life, Lemons and Lemonade.