Unbecoming: When Cancer Strips You of Who You Thought You Were


I am not a warrior who can handle anything. I am not the toughest person you know. I have no choice.

What you don't know about me is that I am not as strong as I seem. I am not a warrior who can handle anything. I am not the toughest person you know. I have no choice. I can either choose to live my life as gracefully as possible (some days are much better than others), or I can cave in to that person who lives deep down in me, in that dark place filled with insecurity, fear and helplessness. Some days it takes everything in me to not go there. I tell myself that is not who I am.

What you don't know about me is that, like many other cancer fighters and survivors, I live in mild to moderate physical pain every day. I don't know if it will ever go away, but I have to believe that if I keep up the lifestyle that I love as a runner and fitness and health enthusiast, the pain will eventually be much less. The physical challenges are a piece of cake compared to the mental ones. The emotional scars could make some people not want to leave the house let alone get out of bed. But that is not me either.

What's harder for me right now is what cancer has exposed. Some days, I want to be anonymous-- the girl who just blends in. But now I can't because I have my own story to tell. So when you tell me about the woman who just passed away from melanoma and battled hard for seven years, this doesn't inspire me to be stronger, this reminds me of who I really am. I am just a girl living and recovering from a stage 3 diagnosis.

Unfairly, this really messes with my story that I've created with my head in the sand-- happily ever after only to have my head abruptly pulled out of the sand, where I've been living in between each set of scans, bloodwork and so on. You reminded me that this sh** is real, and this could be me. You bring me back to that place where I play the numbers game. "Okay, if I can at least get to the five year survivor mark, the girls will be 12, 15 and 16. Crap, that's a terrible time to die, it would be so much better if I can make it until they are in their 20s, when they need me a little less." Imagine that? You can see why I survive much better with my head somewhat stuck in the sand.

I have force fed myself these past nine months trying to appear like I have my sh** together: strong, cool and collected, holding my breath the entire time. I am finally too tired, and I am coming up for air. Not because I am stronger, not because I am more secure, maybe because I am finally unbecoming all the things I have built myself up to be. Maybe I am becoming who I really was all along. That is about the only good that came out of sharing that story with me about a girl, just like me, fighting melanoma.

I openly admit I am not as strong as I seem. I appear stone-cold stoic, broad shoulders, strong thighs and all, thanks perhaps to German heritage and a lifetime of athletics, but I am not as I appear. I stand tall at 5'10 but many days thanks to this disease, I feel almost invisible. It is a lonely journey as most people don't understand unless they too have been stripped, yanked butt-naked out of the sand.

What I have realized after having my world shake with one story about a girl like me who lost her life to melanoma is that weak or strong, tired or motivated, I am a competitor to the end. As I strip myself of all the bull**** and fluffy nonsense that we somehow get tagged with at some point in our life, I un-become to perhaps become who I always was in the beginning. So tell me again about this horrible disease I face each day with no cure. In my unbecoming way, I will grit my teeth and tell you, "Game on."

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