The other day, I went to visit a dear friend who has just started chemotherapy and begun losing her hair. I dropped off a goody bag—a lightly used wig, a soft hat—and I tried to recall for her the strategies that helped me through my own surgeries, chemo, and radiation 10 years ago. Mostly it was ordinary stuff: stay hydrated, exercise as much as you can, seek out pleasurable distractions.
But suddenly I had an epiphany: I realized that the greatest strength I brought to cancer was a history of enduring adolescent humiliation. My frizz-bomb hair, too-flat-for-a-bra chest, uncoordinated gangliness, menstrual nausea—I endured them all as a teenager. It wasn’t fun, but I did it.
So side effects like hair loss, breastlessness, mental disorientation, and digestive disturbances—I could suck it up and bear those too.
Like adolescence, cancer doesn’t leave you a lot of choices. But if you got through the daily mortifications of high school, you can probably weather the punishments of treatment: Put one foot in front of the other and plod your way through.
My friend said she found that comforting. So I wanted to share it with the rest of you.