My Garden

SONY DSC  Last week I had my head shaved.  I wanted to do it before it started falling out.  I didn’t want to wake up one morning and find a pile of hair on my pillow.

My friends were there.  A lot of them.  I was facing them as my friend, and hairstylist, shaved my entire head.  For some strange reason it reminded me of my wedding day.  So many loving faces looking at me.  When she turned me around to look in the mirror, I stared at myself and cried.  It is sad to lose your hair.  When I looked in the mirror- I saw a cancer patient staring back at me.  Hard to see me in that reflection.

Then everyone hugged me and told me I looked beautiful.  I guess that is what you are supposed to say.  I didn’t feel beautiful . . . until I saw this picture.  I feel beautiful in this picture, but not in the way that I have defined beauty before.  I see myself there in the middle of so many of those who love me, and it looks beautiful.  All of it.  My shaved head, my smile, my sparkling eyes, my gorgeous friends.  It is a truly beautiful picture.

I wish that feeling carried over to every morning when I look it the mirror.  It still shocks me,  It’s me, but it’s not me.

Alex told me he like it and lifted his shirt and asked me to scratch his back with my head.  “It will be a good back-scratcher mom.”

Andy cried.  He has been able to verbalize much of his distaste for my new look.  I’ve been able to take most of it with a smile, but the morning he said, “you don’t look like my mom”.  I cried.  He has come around since then.  Today he told me he loved my hair and that I was his “beautiful momma.”

Here is the thing– despite the circles under my eyes, my weird alien head, and my creepy-ass port — I have never felt more beautiful in my entire life.  Not that surface level beauty, but that deep down beauty.

Cancer has given the people in my life the opportunity to tell me how they see me.  I have gotten emails, texts, letters, cards, and Facebook messages that I would never dream of getting.  I knew I was loved, but you – you have made me feel adored.

I have been teaching for 11 years.  I have always worked with students who are considered to be “at-risk”.  “At-risk” just means that they are at-risk for not graduating high school.  I have loved my profession.  I have loved my students.  I have always considered my work with them such a blessing.  Sometimes it is hard, and draining — and sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I am doing and wonder if I am really making a difference.

Hearing from my students about how they see me- has made me feel beautiful –all the way to my core.  Cancer gave me that opportunity.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

This is true.  I am being showered in this truth.

Stop being hard on yourself about how you look.  Stop spending time in the mirror wishing something was different.  No matter what your look like, or what you have – or don’t — you have the power to make others feel valued, noticed, and loved.  Do it.  Do it every chance you get.  You will never regret it.

On my toughest work days, my dad would always say, “you are just planting seeds in these kids, don’t expect to see the results yet.”

Cancer has given me the opportunity to see my tiny garden, and it is beautiful.

I guess you can say I am starting to get a glimpse of the “bright side”, but trust me– there is still darkness.  I found out today that I tested positive for a genetic mutation that is linked with colon cancer.  I don’t really know what that means.  Something about needing to see a genetic counselor, for more tests, and more waiting.  Blah.  I hope it doesn’t mean more cancer in my future — I do not want to do this again.  In fact, I don’t want to do this now.  Is it wrong to dream about the doctors saying “whoops, our mistake, you don’t really have cancer”?  I know that is not going to happen.  I know that on New Year’s Eve I get to have my second round of chemo, and that fills me with the ultimate dread.  In my moments of weakness I tell Joel “I hate this.  I can’t do this anymore.”

But this is the crazy thing about adversity — you don’t have a choice.  I have to do it.  No choice.  I have cancer.

But I also have a garden 🙂


9 thoughts on “My Garden

  1. Melissa, you look stunning as I knew you would. Your smile radiates warmth, joy and love. It is clear you are lived by so many! I am glad Alex is staying silly, he is always good for some comic relief! Prayers for healing and to restored health in the new year!


  2. I love the way you can use words to pour your feelings and thoughts out on paper – it’s magic (and hopefully therapeutic). You are beautiful inside and out. I know this is probably the hardest thing you have ever had to go through – that’s the battle. Through all of this try to stay as positive as you can. Your will, inner strength and beauty will get you to the other side of this. Sending you and your family positive thoughts and prayers for complete healing and happier days. Love you much –


  3. Thank you for teaching me a new lesson at my 62 years…..the acceptance to fight a battle you did not choose , to offer me hope when in the middle of a cruel illness , and words of wisdom of the true value in this life . Thanks; Gracias !


  4. Can I just say how truly amazing and inspiring you are??? When they told me that KHS had hired a new, young English teacher for Atlas, I was concerned that maybe someone so young didn’t have enough experience to handle the “tough” kids. But boy, was I wrong! You were so great with those kids that I learned from you! You were MY role model. And you still are! You are not only a fabulous teacher; you are a fabulous human being.

    Wonderful photo filled with the many eyes of love. And that is what makes someone truly beautiful.


  5. You do have a garden! I love that! When I saw this picture, I thought it exemplified the love and support continually surrounding you, every minute of every day, as everyone showers their love and light towards you. Not just those pictured, but all who know you! Each and every one. Sending all our love and light your way! I also thought that this picture should be hanging in every hospital, inspiring every person dealing with the heaviness of it all, so that they too can be reminded of the love and support that will provide strength and hope! You are beautiful! And loved! And supported!


  6. Amy Huff is one of my dearest friends. She tells me about you all the time, all the amazing things about you. And in classic Amy form, she makes me feel like we are friends too. Your words are beautiful and so is your truth. Thank you for sharing it with me, and the world. Stay strong and fight through it! As I write this, I think I remember Amy telling me that you have one more treatment! Congrats!!!


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