My friend Deborah came over for a girls night. She’d just finished up a round of chemotherapy and was half way through her radiation treatments. She needed to get away, have some down time, hang out with the girls. And so she came. When she arrived, she had a soft scarf wrapped around her head but it wasn’t long before the scarf came off, Deborah running her fingers over the newly emerging fuzz on her scalp – newborn soft.
“It gets hot,” she said, as she tossed the scarf aside.
Deborah is 31. She has two kids, a good job, a great husband, and breast cancer. I haven’t known many people to have cancer, but even if I did, I still think I’d be able to say that Deborah has handled her illness with more optimism than most. It was sudden, and serious from the start, requiring nearly immediate surgery to remove both of her breasts, and several lymph nodes under each arm. Chemotherapy started as soon as she recovered from her surgery, with radiation following close behind.
And yet, Deborah always seems to find a reason to smile. I’ll never forget her telling me that she knew she had a choice. She could lie down and cry, or she could get up and move forward. “It is what it is,” she told me. And so she moved forward.
That night, as she sat on the arm of my sofa, I couldn’t stop staring at her. There, in the midst of her trials, with no breasts and no hair and the faint tinge of radiation sensitivity blossoming across her chest, she took my breath away. She was so beautiful – so completely radiant. Of course, she’s beautiful because she is a testimony of endurance and survival. But in that moment there in my living room, I saw so much more than that.
Somehow, in the course of all she’s been through, Deborah has tapped into some inner grace and beauty that literally bursts from her skin. And I saw that beauty – not the conventional idea of beauty that tells us we have to pay attention to the cut of our hair or the size of our breasts or the size of our blue jeans, but something deeper. A richly organic, natural, feminine, soul deep beauty that was simply amazing.
I found myself wishing that women everywhere could find a way to connect with that beauty – to realize that even if they don’t look like anyone else, there is so much on the inside that is real and true and beautiful. If our mirrors could reflect who we really are, if we could shake off the distractions and preoccupations of worldly beauty and shave ourselves down to the very core… I think we might learn that beauty on the inside shines far brighter than beauty on the outside. We can be bald or short or plump or tall or shapeless or shapely. We can sing well or dance well or write well or listen well. We can run fast or slow. We can be calm or exuberant or charismatic or subdued. We can be anything. And still be beautiful.