Over a decade ago, at age 20, I was rocking a bright bald head around town while fighting off a cancer that had grown in my chest. I experienced the power of community, the humility of illness, and a passion for living like a fire in my heart. Cancer brought a radical sense of purpose to my life, one that has driven me to choose many extraordinary experiences over the past ten years: adventures in social work, community art, international volunteer trips, surfing, loving people so big, and just a whole-hearted hunger for life. At times the long-term side effects of radiation and chemotherapy have gotten me down, and I struggled with frustrating fatigue and body parts that quit doing their job for me. I’ve had the “welcome to the club” chat with more new cancer patients than I can count now, and I imagine I’ll always be a resource in some way for people with cancer in my community.
I was an art major in my sophomore year at the University of Oregon when I found out I had cancer. The assignment in my art class the week of my diagnosis was to illustrate a one-page comic about a life experience. Tucked into my hospital bed, receiving my first dose of chemotherapy, I drew the first page of this story book: “The Saga of my Swollen Neck.” It became such an effective way to tell people what was going on, we made dozens of copies of it to distribute to friends, family, even the nurses at the hospital. Throughout my treatment I continued to illustrate new pages, and eventually named the story “Chrysalis” to describe the transformative time in life, where everything you thought you knew to be true dissolves, and something new and beautiful emerges out of it. Also, having written and illustrated this story, I’ve had permission to move on. I don’t have to re-hash every detail of a rather traumatic time in life, every time the subject comes up. I have permission to hand people my story book, and then move on with my life. I offer this story to you, to anyone and everyone who needs it.
I feel deeply called to contribute my truth, beauty and my hope to this world. We need to share our stories. It is healing to write that story down and then let it go do its work in the world. It is healing to discover someone else’s story that has just the pieces of truth and recognition you needed at that time in life. So go, darlings, tell your stories, share your truths, let’s lift each other up.