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The Struggle to Find Confidence After Losing It to Cancer

Melissa Miller
woman looking back at lake behind her

In high school and college, I lacked confidence. It was something I struggled with as many teenagers and young adults do. When I graduated college, I had a job I liked and was finally feeling happy and secure in myself. I was starting to finally feel some sense of confidence and happiness that I had never felt before. It was so freeing and simply amazing.

Then two years later, I was diagnosed with cancer and lost my hair twice. I refused to look in the mirror and made my mom cover the one in my hospital room. Once in the middle of the night at my parents’ house, I looked in the mirror and scared myself. I was unrecognizable. I hated being bald, I hated short hair, I hated that I gained weight even when I was feeling sick all the time. I hated that it was all out of my control. I was envious of other people going through cancer who proudly wore their bald heads or who mustered the energy to put makeup on. I just went through the motions so the days would pass where I got to a place where I felt comfortable without a wig on. I went on dates and always assumed my dates thought I was unattractive and I wished I could wear a picture over my face of the old me. I also felt damaged and ugly inside from the leukemia and chemotherapy that had ravaged my body. But other people told me I was supposed to be happy I survived regardless of how I looked and felt.

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Now almost 10 years since my diagnosis and nine years in remission, I still haven’t gained that confidence back. I yearn for just a moment, just a quick taste of what that felt like again. To not feel suffocated by my own insecurities, to not care what others think of me. I work every single day at that. I have been struggling with this a lot lately as I navigate dating in my mid 30s (by dating I mean scrolling the apps and getting bored and scared) and decisions such as whether or not to freeze my eggs (because of my age and the fact I can go into early menopause from the chemo). I don’t know if I will be able to adopt as a single person who had a disease with a very low survival rate. Decisions that consume my mind every single day and that I honestly never imagined I would have to make. When people complain about the mundane parts of adult life, I still feel envious. I want those things. I want to make decisions about the colors of a baby’s room without also wondering if I will be healthy enough for the long haul.

Related:How Being Sick Taught Me to Stop Living Like I'm Dying

I am no longer trying to become the person I was in my early 20s. None of us are that person anymore. But I want some freedom again where I don’t feel like my worth is determined by what others think or by my health. I will work at this every single day because I know I deserve it and it’s the single most important thing I can do for myself.

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