Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Cancer & Self Image

I have learned so much from cancer. They say, “Through darkness comes light.” I really believe that’s true.

In remission for the third time, having to lose my hair due to chemotherapy was hard on me as a woman. I know most will say, “It’s just hair.” Even I say it too, just to convince myself to stay strong. But, in fact, it sucks. It truly opened my eyes to everything I once wasn’t happy with.

Having cervical cancer reminded me of how I was so hard on myself and picked myself apart. I know I’m not the only woman who’s ever felt that way. I look back and think, “Wow Jill, you were so beautiful. Why didn’t you see it? Why did you pick yourself apart and not embrace your hips that measured 44 inches, or embrace your Roman nose?” After all, it’s my personal features that give me my character. Don’t get me wrong, I had confidence, but I still found things that I thought weren’t “perfect.” Nothing is perfect!

Every now and then I like to look back on pictures of myself before cancer. Why did I complain? I was fine the way I was. Now I’m fighting something more meaningful. I’m fighting for my life. I’ve learned to embrace life’s changes, how my body has changed and how I’m Mrs. T (bald) once again. Or how going #2 is completely different from before. Because I have a colostomy bag, this is now totally different.

So my advice to other women, especially women with cancer is to love WHO YOU ARE. Be happy with how you were created; focus on what you HAVE and NOT what you DON’T. Believe me, there’s something greater out there for you, if you believe. I’m a people watcher, sounds creepy I know. I often wonder to myself whether or not the person I’m admiring knows how eccentric he or she is. Being in the city regularly due to my medical appointments, I get to see all colors of the rainbow. The culture differences, the true beauty behind just how different we may look. But internally we’re all the same.

No matter what type of cancer you have ladies, just remember, you’re beautiful inside and out. Your inner beauty will always be there. We might need time adjusting to our shiny new heads or new gadgets attached to our bodies. But, with all the hardships that come along with our new appearances and emotions due to cancer, just remember how bad ass we truly are.

I hope to inspire other women dealing with Cervical Cancer to share their stories and true emotions without fear. Tell it how it Is; don’t hold back. Our cancer is tough, but somehow being painted as “easy.” If I can reach you with my story, just imagine who you’ll inspire by sharing yours. Let’s come together, share our stories, and help one another through our battles. We can help prevent future cases of Cervical Cancer, the one cancer that can often be prevented with a vaccine.

From now on, I’m going to love every inch of me because I’m beautiful inside and out. I will also remind my friend’s how beautiful they are as well. You have one life. Live it, love it, embrace the changes, take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself and others.

Now that I’ve gained my confidence back, I’m going to rock my bald head, wear my wigs and not care who’s looking. Because they could really be thinking, “Wow, she’s so fierce.” Those stares may not have anything to do with my cancer.

So gentlemen, don’t be afraid of our appearances, we’re strong women who know how valuable life is, how anything can change but we still ride the waves. How special love truly is. If you see a friend or a loved one going through the changes of cancer, please remind them how beautiful they are.

Jillian Scalfani is a young 34-year-old mother with an incurable form of cervical cancer. She and her children have a great support system when it comes to her friend’s and family. Read more about Jillian here.

A letter to my mother 20 years after she died from Cervical Cancer

Dear Mom,

I often think of you as my guardian angel and that you can see me. You can see me driving a car fast like you begged me not to do so many times. You see me laughing. You see me with my friends. You see me making a tough decision, and having to be assertive. And when you see me and my brothers, you smile. It’s your big wide, gapped tooth smile. You smile and you put your head down, like I do when I smile. Sometimes with the smile you shake your head. You approve of what you see. You are pleased with us.

Do you know that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month? Sometimes I really wish that I didn’t know that.  I really wish that the day in 1992 when you told me that you had cervical cancer never happened. Your smile was not there. You were sitting in a chair in your bedroom and you told me that you had cervical cancer. When you said it, your eyes closed and you grabbed your hands together. At the time, to me it felt like you were confessing something. I was too young and naïve to understand that you were scared. You said that there was an 85% survival rate. Because I thought this was a confession, I was relaxed. I relaxed during the whole conversation. There was no way that you would die.  My young, naïve mind said death happened to other peoples’ moms, not my mom.  Besides, I thought to myself, there would be no point of your death. You were too much of a good person.

I remember in 1995 coming to see you in the hospital and I was still relaxed.  My grandma was not. She pulled me into the hospital hallway and said that you were not going to get any better. In that moment, my heart went from the 8th floor of that hospital to laying on the ground on the street below. You were not supposed to die.

But in 1996 you did die. And I was left with a myriad of questions about the thing that took you from us. I did not hear many people talking about cervical cancer. What was HPV? How come you were not part of that 85% that lived?

In 2006, ten years after your death, I met a woman who explained all of this to me. Her name was Tamika and she was on a journey. She was racing to beat the clock to eradicate Cervical Cancer. When I learned about her journey, I saw Tamika and Friends as an army with soldiers. You always taught me to fight. I picked up my weapon and joined ranks with these cervical cancer soldiers. I was never going to let another woman get cervical cancer.

I have learned so much since you have been gone mom. I have learned about Henrietta Lacks, the different strands of HPV that cause cervical cancer, and how it is incredibly important to go to the gynecologist. And I have learned that sometimes bad things happen to good people. It is sad to admit this mom but your death has taught me just as much as your life.

Mom, I am faced with the cold fact that this year, you will have been out of my life for the same amount of time that you were in it.  I hope that you see that the world has changed and that I have changed. You always taught me to help other women and I have been doing that. I once met a girl who was in a job training program. I was doing a group counseling session with her and other young women. We talked about ultimate life goals. The girl had been quiet for most of the group. When it was her turn to say what, she wanted most in the world, she replied, “I just want to make my mother proud.” I touched her hand and I said, “Me too.”

I cannot see you, but the thought that you are smiling at me motivates me on my darkest days. It makes me want to talk to people about cervical cancer, organize communities, be a better mental health provider and be a servant of the Lord.  I do not know if you can really see me, but I have realized that I see you every time I do an act of kindness.

Hugs and kisses.

Your only daughter,

Lilly