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Alicia Garey Headshot

Forced: The Identity I Didn't Ask for

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I was forced into this new place. I was pushed. I was thrust into a space so utterly uncomfortable and yet so defined. I had no choice. The only other option was dying. I'm not sure my brain is always firing on all cylinders these days thanks to chemo brain, (which I probably can't blame entirely), but I do know that I am different.

I feel at once powerless and powerful. When doubt about my future pops into my head, my heart beats faster and I am more determined than ever to listen to my own truth, even if it's weird. Weird by whose standard, I do not know. I don't know if this is a universal,"holy shit better make the best of it" kind of feeling. I know my support group girls also feel like they've battled in war and are enjoying the result of the hard work and dedication to stay living. Of course, all we did was sit there while man-made chemicals were poured into our bodies like so many modern experiments.

It is likely that something man-made attacked my body in the first place, so what's a girl to do? According to, the oldest documented case of cancer was first recorded in Egypt in 1500 b.c. Wouldn't you know it, it was breast cancer.

It's clearly a tough nut to crack. People are still bewildered by this disease. People are still dying, I'm very sorry to say. At the moment, I'm not one of them. But I'm now a statistic. Added to being a Jewish American female from New York, I am now a cancer survivor. I've wanted to be many things. I never thought this would be one of them. But I'll accept it, as the other statistic is just not OK. If I become the woman who was treated and then got cancer again and died, well, that will definitely suck. One can understand why the heart starts racing.

Sometimes, the adrenaline is too much. I feel frantic, desperate. A sense of urgency dominates. Then I get overwhelmed, get a hot flash and need to step back, breathe, rest. It's a tough balance. I think of the things I have done and why I've done them. I've always had great respect for older people who have seen the world change in their lifetime. I want to be one of those people. But I also need to be right here, right now, feeling whatever it is I'm feeling and know that it counts. It all counts toward my purpose on earth.

So yes, it's back to that ridiculous feeling of fearlessness that crystallizes when a force beyond your control stares you down and forces you to act. Forces you to accept total unpredictability. Forces you to be ugly on the outside. Forces you to be your own cheerleader. Forces you to move differently, listen differently. Forces you to dig deeper than ever before. Forced. No choice. No turning back. No matter if you can even pinpoint why cancer invaded. No time. Just forced to trust, correct, learn, go and do.

The fear, the adrenaline, is purposeful. The human body is capable of an amazing array of possibilities. The unexpected is always a learning moment. Forced to give in. Forced to step up, step forward. It is an opportunity to listen to the abstract, to drink in the relentless power of being human. To tear up all of the rules if need be. To do exactly the opposite of anything you've ever done before. To be unique. This is what I was forced to do. I was forced to look like someone I'd never known.

A completely different person is in my mirror now. I'm getting to know her. She's interesting and sometimes familiar. She's teaching me quite a bit. And I'm listening.