How breast cancer ruined and restored my confidence

By Javacia Harris Bowser

 Each week the Reckon Women newsletter includes a column from a woman with ties to the South, in collaboration with See Jane WriteClick here to sign up for the newsletter. Click here to sign up for the Reckon Women Facebook page.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October’s essays will all be from breast cancer warriors, survivors, and thrivers.

 I miss my eyebrows.

When I started chemotherapy on May 7 to treat stage II breast cancer, I knew that by the end of May I would start to lose my hair.

I worried about how this would affect my self-esteem and even my identity. All my life I’ve been “the girl with the long, pretty hair.” I thought that after losing my hair, I’d lose my sense of self. I thought I’d cry. I thought I’d be afraid to look in the mirror.

But none of those things happened. I didn’t even feel sad. I was just annoyed because I was cleaning up hair all the time. In fact, thanks to my extensive collection of head wraps and scarves (cancer, but make it fashion!) I still felt cute!

But here’s the thing – eventually chemo takes all of your hair. Eventually, you lose hair everywhere. Yes, even there. #freebrazilian

And when I lost my eyebrows, everything changed. When I lost my eyebrows, I no longer felt cute.  I already didn’t feel sexy. When actual poison is being pumped into your body, it’s hard to see yourself as a sexual being. Instead you see yourself as a toxic landfill. And once I lost my eyebrows, I didn’t want to see myself at all.

In the process of killing cancer, chemotherapy killed my confidence, too — at first.

But then something unexpected happened.

One day I was scrolling through pictures in my phone and as I saw the old me, I realized I had no desire to be her again. Yes, pre-cancer Javacia had full eyebrows. Yes, she had long, thick, curly hair. But present-day Javacia has an outlook on life that the old me didn’t.

Pre-cancer Javacia constantly worried about how she looked. She worried about her muffin top and her double chin. She worried about cellulite and wobbly arms. She worried about reaching her goal weight before her 40th birthday. But present-day Javacia finds such concerns laughable.

I know that after cancer and cancer treatments, my body will never be the same again. I know I will never have what society and media consider a perfect body. But that frees me to love the body I have just as it is.

Some cancer patients long for the days when they will have the capacity to sweat the small stuff again. And I get that. But I hope my IDGAF attitude lasts long after my active cancer treatment has ended.

Am I saying I’m glad I got cancer? Hell no! If given a choice I would most definitely opt out. But cancer has changed me in a way that I don’t think anything else could have.

One day I was chatting with a breast cancer survivor and she told me that when she looks back on the year she went through chemotherapy and radiation she can’t help but think, “I’m a G! I did that!”

That’s when I realized that pre-cancer Javacia was strong, but present-day Javacia is a total badass.

This year, in spite of cancer and chemo and the COVID pandemic, I have never been more successful, career-wise. I’m a freelance writer and the founder of See Jane Write, a website and community for women who write and blog. While dealing with surgeries and chemo side effects I’ve landed several new freelance gigs, had several virtual speaking engagements, and grown the See Jane Write community. And I’ve walked for exercise for at least 30 minutes every single day this year – including the day of my lumpectomy.

But cancer has also taught me to stop tethering my worth to my productivity. Overall, my body tolerated chemo very well, according to my oncologist and nurses. But losing my hair and my eyebrows just scratched the surface of side effects.  I’ve had to deal with nausea, loss of appetite, neuropathy, hand-foot syndrome, and much more.

So, some days I couldn’t write because I couldn’t even use my hands. Some days I couldn’t brainstorm business ideas because I was so tired I had to sleep for more than 12 hours. But those moments taught me to stop behaving as if I have to earn love. Those moments taught me that I am worthy of love and joy and all good things simply because I am. I’ve learned that I can take a break and my world won’t break into pieces.

Armed with all of these lessons, I am more confident today than I’ve ever been in my life – even though I don’t have eyebrows.

I’m not saying I look in the mirror and think to myself, “You are beautiful because you are strong.” I look in the mirror and think, “You look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.”

The makeup tutorial I had at Sephora last year has come in handy and I do a great job drawing on my eyebrows every day. Thanks to my makeup bag and that headscarf collection, people are always raving about how great I look when I go live on Facebook or post current photos to Instagram. And I appreciate each compliment, but I want to tell them, I did not wake up like this. I woke up looking like Donatello.

No, I still don’t feel pretty. But cancer has taught me that pretty is overrated.

Javacia Harris Bowser is a freelance writer and blogger and the founder of See Jane Write, a website and community for women who write and blog. She’s also the curator of the Reckon Women Voices column. You can find her online at seejanewritebham.com and on Instagram @seejavaciawrite.

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