I heard that Sara Bareilles wrote this song for a friend who is struggling with coming out. I understand that the phrase “coming out” usually means a disclosure to family and friends that you are gay. But before I learned her reason for this song it had touched my heart for another reason.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I kept the diagnosis to myself. My husband knew. I was slow to disclose to my family and only a select few knew the diagnosis before I had surgery. Once I knew I would undergo chemotherapy I told my close circle of friends. Once I lost my hair, everyone knew.
I was quite brave when it came to going bald. No, nt really. I was terrified and all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and hide. But that was not the reality I was facing. So I became stubborn. I decided on hats. No wigs. I was not going to hide. My attitude was: If I have to go through this, you’re all going through it with me. My husband says I gave the world the finger. And he is right. In my own way I was telling cancer to f**k off. (I have a little bit of my father in me).
Being brave in the face of adversity is not the same bravery of this song. The bravery in this song is about living it every day. It is about being wholly who you are, who you are called to be. I know my story has a purpose. I want to share it. But I struggle with being “the face” of someone who has survived cancer. I can talk to people who already know. I bet I could even talk to an audience of strangers. I struggle with telling someone for the first time.
After completing treatment, passing the bar exam, and leaving my financial aid job I found myself faced with the unknown. I had a temporary job in Worcester. After ten wonderful months that allowed me to heal emotionally while making new friends I landed my current (paying) job. A job that I love. The job that is a perfect fit between my years of experience and my law degree. However, I was now faced with a new workplace family that did not know my story. And I wanted to keep it that way. Or so I thought.
I became friends with two of my co-workers. Close work friends. You know the kind; you can talk about anything and everything about work. And you can share your personal story. You can even get together outside of work for a cup of coffee or go to each other’s homes for a visit. They become part of your life. But they didn’t know my story. As women we would talk about clothes and hair. We would make jokes and laugh at mutual adversities that being a woman entails. Every once in a while I would find myself about to say something about my hair that only those who “knew” would understand, and I would find myself holding back. I couldn’t be myself.And then I started having anxiety attacks. On a visit to my oncologist I found my heart racing and my blood pressure rise. In fact, my doctor commented on my heart rate. She dismissed it as “white coat syndrome” and I let it go. The truth is, I felt that I was lying. I was lying to my new friends. I was lying to my co-workers. I was lying to myself about who I am today. So I took them aside, closed the office door, and came out.
After that it was easier to quietly disclose my history to my co-workers. I’m able to talk about it in quiet conversation. And I’m willing to answer questions, share my knowledge, and speak up when I want to. I am also a friend to those in need. I have been introduced to friends of friends. I am here to listen, and love, and support. Yes, I am a reluctant survivor but I know my story has a purpose.
I just need to be Sara Bareilles brave.If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor.