February; the Month of Resilience and the Birth of the Gypsy/Pirate


Every so often I like to think about where I was a year ago, particularly to keep myself motivated when my steam starts to run out.  Today I thought back to last year, the year before that, and then the year before that, and I noticed a pattern; something ‘extreme’ always happens to me in February.  It’s not necessarily something unfortunate that occurs, but it’s usually something that shakes me up a bit or changes me in some way.  Two years ago I started doing Hospice volunteer work, which was one of those most intense and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.  It completely changed the way I handle tragedy and gave me an immense gratitude for all of the good things in my life.  It also taught me how to be strong for other people which was something I was not so great at before.  There’s one word in particular that sticks out in my mind to sum up the events of last February; resilience.

A year ago I went to my dermatologist for an overdue check up and to make a long story short he told me that I had a basal cell, a form of skin cancer, on the top of my head.  I already knew what basal cells were because my parents have had them removed, so I thought “No bid deal, this will be super easy to get rid of.” False.  Because I was young to have already developed one and because it was on my scalp, I had to have a specialized procedure to remove it.  In a moment of pure vanity I asked the dermatologist, “What about my hair?  If it’s on my head do they have to cut it?”  He very sympathetically said *insert sarcasm here* “We have no idea how big it is so I can’t tell you.  But it’s possible you’ll need a skin graft.”  You know what happens if you get a skin graft?  YOUR HAIR DOESN’T GROW BACK.  After I left the office, I sat in my car for a while trying to calm myself by saying, “At least it’s not melanoma,” and “It’s not going to be that bad,” when a much larger part of me was screaming, “You’re going to be bald no one will think you’re pretty!”  Looking back, that’s a really immature and vapid thing to say but I think any girl would be absolutely horrified at the thought of losing her hair.

I had to be awake during the procedure (I still don’t know why, that’s seemed unnecessary), so the surgeon was able to reassure me that it wasn’t that big and there would be no skin grafts (thank God).  He did have to cut some of my hair and after he finished I pulled my fingers through my hair and pulled out what felt like at least half of it, which gave me a minor heart attack.  He also had to bandage the area and since it was on my head he pretty much just wrapped gauze all around me so I looked like someone who had a tooth ache in 1920.  Not a prime moment in my life.  It took almost a month for it to heal completely, but apart from getting the stitches out (which was miserable) it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.  The only lifestyle change I’ve had to make since then is making sure my head is covered when I’m in the sun.  The reason I got a basal cell on my scalp is because it was on my part…the one area of skin the sun hits that I never put sunscreen on.  Honestly though, who would think to put sunscreen on their head?  Curse my Irish skin.  Since I absolutely love being outside in the sun and don’t particularly care for wearing baseball hats, I started tying scarves around my head.  My friends call it the ‘gypsy/pirate ‘and it’s become almost a trademark of mine when it’s sunny out.  I enjoy my new look and it works for me, so I like to think of that as the silver lining to what was an overall very unpleasant experience.

My point this evening is that even in the darkest of situations there is always a way to find just an ounce of light.  These dark situations are also what make us grow stronger as individuals and help shape us into the people that we are and that we’re going to be.  When I found out about the basal cell and the slight possibility I’d lose my hair (and possibly have to go for the Bruce Willis look), I was pretty calm (apart from the screaming in the car incident).  One of my friends asked me “How are you being so strong right now?” to which I replied, “Because I have to. What other choice do I have?”  Life throws you curve balls, some bigger than others, and when it does you’re given pretty much two choices: you can fall apart or you can be resilient, pick yourself up, and keep going.  Personally, I prefer to keep moving forward with my life because in my experience life is not always difficult or depressing for long, and there’s usually light at the end of the tunnel whether you see it at first or it takes its time to.  Life has certainly taught me that resilience is key because even in situations when you are almost positive that you know the outcome, something comes along a steers you in a different direction.

It’s February again, but this time I think life is going to throw me something good.  I’m certainly putting in the time and effort right now to make positive changes in my life so I know that good things are coming my way.  I also have a few months before it starts getting warm outside again so I have plenty of time to start stocking up on some new Gypsy/Pirate head scarves.

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