Thank you, cancer.
As Thanksgiving approaches I think of all the things I am grateful for in the past 6 months and the list could probably write an entire novel. Maybe it goes too far to say that I am thankful for cancer, but I can say that I am extremely thankful for the insight cancer has given me, the experiences it has allowed me to have, and the people it has introduced into my life.
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma on May 18, 2012, just a week after returning from my study abroad semester in Costa Rica.
The life I was used to living ground to a sudden halt. I was forced to change the speed of my normally fast-paced, constantly-moving lifestyle to the pace of a baby learning to walk. Before all of this happened I thought I was your normal college junior: attending Tufts University, majoring in Biology, and trying to understand (somewhat unsuccessfully) the key to time management. I'm used to constant motion, never-ending to-do lists, running from place to place, and allowing myself as little time to breathe as humanly possible.
Being diagnosed with cancer changed all of that for me.
School in the fall was out of the question because I wouldn't be done with my chemotherapy treatments in time. Large amounts of physical activity were also ruled out after a nasty biopsy that was really more like open-heart surgery.
For the first time in my life I had to learn how to do nothing... and be okay with it.
Brutal might be the proper word to describe how steep this particular learning curve was for me, but eventually I caught on and even occasionally enjoyed sitting and resting. I learned how to properly nap and how to watch television shows for hours on end -- both very new and foreign activities for me.
One night in particular, I was watching TV with my mom and we both realized that if I didn't have cancer I wouldn't be sitting there with her. She called it a silver lining moment, which I have come to define as any good thing that appears as a result of difficult and trying circumstances. From then on I began seeing silver lining moments all over the place. My silver linings held my hand and guided me down cancer's obstacle-ridden, unpaved road.
When I found out I wouldn't be able to return to school until January, the first thing I thought about was how excited I was to finally be home for Halloween. Silver lining. When I learned that chemo would make my hair fall out, I wanted to try having short hair-styles, always a dream of mine. Suddenly, I was spending more time with my family than I had since before high school started. Friends and family stepped up and supported me in ways I couldn't have imagined. I felt my perspective on life changing. I felt blessed. I saw how much I had and how much love surrounded me and I felt profound gratitude like I had never felt before.
The rate at which my hair was falling out became too overwhelming and I finally had my friend shave it off completely -- but not before she gave me an awesome Mohawk and took plenty of photos.
One of my most important silver lining moments came when people started telling me I had a perfectly shaped head and I became confident walking around bald. This led to a friend suggesting we make a trip to the Venice boardwalk to find the perfect henna artist who could paint an enormous dragon on my shiny, hairless head.
I became the girl with a dragon tattoo.
My henna dragon is my wig, my scarf, my hat and my healing. It reflects all the silver linings that this cancer has provided. It reminds me that I am strong and also that I am looked after and protected. Each time the dragon appears on the canvas that is my head I feel empowered, capable, like I can get through anything. For the opportunity to learn my capacity for strength and the depth of love around me, for each and every cancer silver lining... I am thankful.