Better Than Before

October 20, 2012

As I sat in the car on the way to the shop, I thought about the purchase I was about to make. Possibilities filled my head, and I began pondering over options. What length should it be? What color, what style? Will it be the same as the other girls or will I stand out from the rest? While contemplating all of this, I ran my fingers through my hair and piled the coarse, dull strands upon my lap, as if it didn’t bother me; as if I felt no urge to cry like I had that morning, as the shower washed away what lifeless strands had remained sitting atop my head, making me realize that the process was speeding. No, this was not a time for tears, I told myself; it is a time for strength. Mom and Dad were there and I knew that what I was going through was just as hard on them-as it was on me, so when we walked into that shop, I was going to strut through the aisles like we were picking out my prom dress, not a wig to hide my near hairless scalp.
Entering the store was a shocking experience. The number of porcelain mannequins staring back at me, wearing styled hair pieces and stoic expressions was, to say the least, intimidating. My goal for the day was to pick a wig, put it on, and get out of that creepy shop and back to my bed as soon as possible, but after making my selection I realized I wouldn’t be able to nurse the exhaustion quite yet; the wig, the shop owner explained, would need to be steamed and styled before I could take it home, so we could either wait around a while or come back another day, leaving my thin mess of hair uncovered a bit longer. Weighing the options, going home seemed like the best plan for my parents and I , so we began to get ready to go to the car. During my tired walk towards the exit door, my plans were shattered as I noticed a shiny electric razor sitting atop the back counter, calling my name. I explained to my parents that there was one thing we had to do before leaving the shop^ and in my first step towards emotional recovery I personally shaved what dying hair I had left, laughing and crying through it all. Cancer, I decided, had controlled enough of my life already in the few months since my diagnoses, and losing my hair was going to be one thing that happened on my time.
Cancer would no longer run my life. I never chose to have Leukemia, but I could choose how I let it affect me. I could be a passive victim, hoping and praying that I would make it out alive and maybe I would; maybe it would all pass in time, and I would be able to block out all my memories of this traumatic experience, getting back to life as it was before. Instead, I chose to not only survive, but to beat cancer. I chose to fight like hell and strive to be better than who I was before. I chose to turn cancer into the most positive experience it could possibly be, because I knew it was God’s way of letting me know that it was time to shape up, and so I did. Cancer changed my life more than one could ever imagine. Depressed and disinterested in family, friends, and school, I was more lost than I could describe at fourteen years old. When I got sick, I knew my life would change, I just didn’t realize it would be for the better. I won’t say that I enjoyed treatment, because I didn’t and no one does. Cancer is awful, chemo is awful, but living a life without meaning, I’ve decided, is much worse. God sent me a blessing in disguise, and I thank him every day for doing so. I became determined to be better than who I was in every single way because if I can survive cancer, I know now, I can do anything. I look at life with such a different attitude than before, taking on challenges with enthusiasm, and a desire for greatness. With the help of my amazing family, my friends, and of course, an amazing Oncology staff at Mary Bridge, I am proud to say I finished Chemotherapy treatments in June of 2010 with a newly acquired lust for life that I had never imagined before becoming a Cancer Survivor. I know now, and hope to inspire others to remember that every moment of life is a gift, and you have to make the most of it. Every year on February 28, my family celebrates with a special dinner followed by a toast. Why do I toast to my diagnoses and not the end of my treatment? Because four years ago on that day, I embarked on a journey, and at 18,1 am only getting started.
Kelsey Payne