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When I heard the words "You have breast cancer", I expected a noise, a sound effect, some sort of boom. Too many movies perhaps, but it wasn't like that at all. It was very quiet, inward, still. In the city that never sleeps, you could hear a pin drop.

Along with the diagnosis comes treatment and subsequent hair loss. And I have always loved my hair. This seemed devastating. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to get better. When my doctor explained the benefits of me getting chemotherapy, I was like, “Sign me up!” I want to live. I want to enjoy all of life, which was so possible just a couple of weeks earlier. But, I’m a woman, and I wanted to feel pretty. It sounds shallow. But it’s true.

The day my hair fell out I did cry. Just for a moment. It came out in handfuls and it was disturbing. In that moment, the reality of breast cancer hit me harder than going through the double mastectomy itself. It was in that moment that I said, “Wow, you really do have cancer.”

I wanted to feel sorry for myself but something inside me rose up. My inner voice said, “Ok, it’s really happening whether you’re on board or not, so you can cry, or you can deal with it.” The haircuts started that day. I had four of them, and was shaved bald by the end of that weekend.

I realized something in this.

I am not who I look like. My outside doesn’t define me. I am what I do, what I say, how I live my life. My value does not stem from how pretty I look. It stems from what kind of friend I am. What kind of artist I am. What kind of human being I am. My strength of character, my compassion, my creativity––these are where my real value can and should reside––and they shine far brighter than any head of hair. Cancer may be ugly, but bald is beautiful. And for me, this experience has taught me what “beauty” really means.

Ree Merrill (ReeMerrillblog.wordpress.com)
Los Angeles, CA

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