I started chemotherapy 3 days after my 27thbirthday. I didn’t share my situation publicly so outside of my family, close friends, and my coworkers at the time, no one knew that I a) had cancer and b) was about to start chemotherapy. From the people who did know, I got the usual questions and the one constant was “are you scared to lose your hair!?” My response was a quick and easy “Oh hell no! Not at all! Losing my hair is the least of my problems. My priority is making sure my cancer doesn’t come back and I mean my future fertility is questionable because of chemo… so those are way bigger problems than losing my hair!” What I was really doing though was covering up my own fears and feelings of inadequacy. I was masking my insecurities and my pain. I didn’t realize that this was what I was doing at the time. I truly felt that losing my hair really WAS the least of my problems, but that was all just on the surface. When I lost my hair, I lost so much more – I lost my negative self image, my self doubt, and my insecurities. I gained perspective, self confidence, and a whole lot of self love.
You might be thinking: “Girlllll you crazy! WTF!” Let’s take it back a notch and give you some context here. Growing up I was SO self-conscious about my hair. I had this wild, uncontrollable, frizzy AF Jew fro that just could not be tamed! This is a long time ago back in the day when the Con Air hair straightener was hot off the press. That thing COULD NOT handle my hair and I was so embarrassed. My grade 9 yearbook picture is seriously 90% hair, 10% face! Before this in elementary school (pre-Con-Air hair straightener days) I was so embarrassed about my hair that I relentlessly applied to a TV talk show program that gave hair makeovers. I was desperate for a change and felt helpless and thought my hair could only be tamed by a famous professional. I was teased, and I felt less than, and I compared myself to others in my class and even to my friends who I thought were so much prettier than I was because their hair was manageable. Years and years of believing that I wasn’t pretty wreaked havoc on my emotional state and my self-esteem. Even later on in life when I invested in a high quality straightener that could man handle my frizzy hair, I still didn’t see myself as attractive because the pain of feeling less than for so long completely distorted my opinion of myself. I became my own worst enemy instead of my own compassionate best friend.
How did that play out? Well in my mind I was unattractive by things outside of my control, so I went overboard on the things that I could control. I would exercise excessively and make myself wrong for eating something “bad” or not sticking to a diet. This spiraled out of control and after years of this, I had a completely distorted view of my body. I would think I was fat if I ate one unhealthy meal and would have to over exercise to compensate for this. I couldn’t go out for dinner or brunch with friends spontaneously because I had to plan my workouts around them. I couldn’t be out in a bathing suit unless I exercised first. And the worst part – all of this mental and physical restriction/over exercising I was doing to myself was causing me to binge and overeat at night on all the things I deemed “forbidden”. OMG I’m cringing as I type this out because I can’t believe the prison that I was trapped in! It was a prison entirely of my own creating and doing – but it was a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
This pain that I talk about – let me try and explain it. Imagine you have this deep-rooted belief that you are unattractive. Objectively you know this isn’t true, but you can’t change how you feel. So you try and control everything about your appearance that you can, but in the process you wind up completely damaging your body by eating excessive amounts of processed and refined foods. Now you make yourself wrong for what you did the night before so you punish yourself – physically at the gym and mentally and emotionally with negative words and thoughts. The negative thoughts compound and continually reaffirm the belief that you aren’t attractive… and then the cycle continues. And for me, it continued for YEARS.
After about 8 years of this mental and physical abuse, my body had enough and I got breast cancer. I am 100% certain that the negative relationship I had with myself and my body was a contributing factor in my diagnosis. At the time of my diagnosis I knew nothing about natural medicine. I had never even heard of a naturopathic doctor! Given that I knew of no other options, I followed the advice of my oncologist which was to undergo chemotherapy. It’s really interesting to me because knowing what I know now about natural medicine and my particular diagnosis, I would NEVER have put my body through chemotherapy (or radiation), but I’m so grateful that I didn’t know about natural options because honestly, losing my hair from chemo was truly the best thing that ever happened to me.
My hair was the root cause of my belief that I wasn’t attractive. My hair was the root cause of my belief that I wasn’t enough. My belief that I was unattractive started my guilt/shame spiral with emotional eating. I know this might sound crazy to you, but this is truly how I felt at this time in my life.
When I lost my hair, I saw the real me for the first time in years. I saw a beautiful woman who was just scared to be herself. I saw a courageous woman who was just scared to be confident. I saw a brave woman who was stuck in her own shadow. Looking into the mirror and seeing myself this way was beautiful and empowering. It’s like I saw myself with a new set of eyes. So what’s a girl to do?! I took action and started to show up for myself.
Acknowledging and owning the pain and the struggle was a critical first step. After this true healing really began. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of self care here. And I’m not talking about getting a massage once a month – I’m talking about cultivating a daily practice that suits and honours your needs on an individual and daily basis. That means taking rest when you need it. That means moving your body when you need it. That means saying no to obligations you don’t want to actually go to. That means saying yes to things outside your comfort zone. The list goes on and on and on. The point is that when you prioritize YOU and you honour and take care of YOUR needs, you create more space in your life to better serve others.
Where am I now? Instead of abusing my body with food, I became a holistic nutritionist and I coach breast cancer survivors how food is medicine and how it can play a pivotal role in breast cancer prevention and recovery. Instead of punishing my body with excessive exercise, I partner with my body and make present moment choices with food and exercise that honour my highest self. Instead of looking at my body with resentment and anger, I view my body with love and complete reverence for all that she does for me. Instead of being my own worst enemy I am my own compassionate best friend. Instead of living in pain, I am living my most nutritious, delicious life!