I have a problem with the saying "Love yourself." People say it as if it could cure world hunger: "I know it's hard, sweetie, but all you have to do is love yourself." What kind of advice is that?
It's as if they're saying my medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor, is going to be magically healed through my ability to love myself. I don't think so.
But during medulloblastoma treatment, I learned something important. Loving yourself does not heal you. It does not stop your disease or make the chemo work faster.
Yet loving yourself does allow you to cherish the nurses and the techs. It allows you to appreciate your friends and family who have stuck by your side and encouraged you.
Loving yourself allows you to enjoy the rollercoaster of life you've been given.
Finding pride after my medulloblastoma diagnosis
For the first couple of months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I refused to listen to anybody about the necessity of loving myself. I stayed in my hospital room. I refused to leave the house. I preferred to stay within my comfort zone rather than broaden my horizons.
Then it hit me: Why does it matter what other people think of me? I am my own person. I make my decisions. I can sulk and cry about how life isn't fair, or I can be an inspiration to those who are newly diagnosed, to those who have a problem with themselves because of the image chemo so generously gives them. I began to like my bald head and dark eyes, the side effects of my brain tumor that included random laughing and crying fits. I wore my beanies with pride and began looking people straight in the eye.
How my care team helped me gain confidence
My most memorable moment at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center was when I had to shave my head because I was starting to look patchy. My radiation oncologist, Anita Mahajan, M.D., ordered all of the male radiation therapists to turn around because I was taking off my beanie, and they weren't allowed to look. Once Dr. Mahajan saw that I was comfortable, she allowed them to look. After that treatment, one of my radiation therapists, who usually kept to himself, told me that I looked beautiful bald.
I don't even think he remembers it, but that stayed with me. He didn't have to attempt to make me feel better. None of them did. They didn't have to play the music I liked. They didn't have to tell me I had a perfectly round-shaped head. All they had to do was administer my treatment. It seems fair to say that on my journey of learning to love myself, the entire staff at the Proton Therapy Center was really responsible for the first rise in my confidence.
You make the ultimate decision
When you're relearning to love yourself through a cancer diagnosis, it starts with your caregivers and care team. Embrace the compliments and support they give you. But also let them speak the truth to you -- even if it hurts your feelings. As my cancer treatment ended, I began to feel depressed and started taking my anger out on my family. Eventually, my mom told me, "Although you beat cancer, it's now beating you." This marked a big turning point for me. I quickly learned that honesty is a necessity on the road to confidence.
I'm not done with this journey of loving myself. Honestly, I don't think you're ever done finding love and confidence within yourself.
I think with each hardship, each memory, each person you come in contact with, you decide whether or not to grow. You make the ultimate decision. People can influence you, but you're always going to be in charge of you. And you have to take advantage of that.