“Javacia — the girl with the long, pretty hair.”

That’s how people have described me for most of my life. As I got older and started making a name for myself as a writer, blogger, business owner, and teacher, I thought this would change. And in some ways, it did. In some circles, I’m “the blogger girl.” Some people actually call me “See Jane Write.” And to my former students, I will always be “Mrs. Bowser.”

But for most people, I just went from being “the girl with the long, pretty hair” to “the lady with the long, pretty hair.”

I know I should have been flattered. Someone saying my hair is pretty is a compliment. But I was tired of people paying more attention to my hair than to me.

On May 7, I started chemotherapy for breast cancer and by the end of the month I’d lost my “long, pretty hair.” But even in its absence, my hair continues to steal the show.

I’ll be honest, before starting chemo I worried about how it would feel to lose my hair. I wondered if I’d cry or feel ugly or feel like less of a woman. I wondered if I’d hate looking in the mirror. But none of that happened.

On the evening of May 24 – after realizing my hair had shed so much it was too tangled to comb – I cut my hair down to just an inch or two. I wasn’t sad at all. My attitude was this: Let me cut this mess off and get on with my day. This happened less than an hour before I had to do a Facebook Live broadcast. I just threw on a headwrap and went on with the show.

And when the rest of my hair started to fall out, I still wasn’t sad. I was just annoyed by the fact that I was constantly cleaning up hair.

However, many of my friends and family were devastated that my signature curls were gone, and they assumed I just as heartbroken as they were.

But here’s the thing – while hair loss is the most visible side effect of chemotherapy, for many cancer patients, it is the least of our concerns.

Early in my treatment, my red blood cell count dropped so drastically my doctor thought I might need a blood transfusion. My heart rate is often so high I can see my heart beating through my chest.

I’ve still been able to walk for exercise every day but sometimes walking for 30 minutes feels like walking for 30 miles.

Fortunately, I haven’t vomited at all, but I feel queasy almost every day. (Is this what pregnant women feel like? God bless all you mamas!)

I lost 15 pounds in one month because some days rice and apple sauce are the only things I can eat. Some days everything tastes like sand. (Side note: When I do have an appetite and a sense of taste, I eat ALL THE THINGS. So, don’t worry about me wasting away.)

Neuropathy and hand-foot syndrome are other common side effects of chemotherapy and some mornings I wake up and can barely use my hands. 

Nonetheless, my oncologist and nurses all say that, so far, I have tolerated chemotherapy very well. And I must say that my good days do outweigh my bad days. I’ve been able to write, work, and walk in spite of everything. I can honestly say I’m not just surviving chemo; I’m thriving.

So, I’m not sharing any of this for pity. The idea of people feeling sorry for me bothers me more than the fact that my stomach can’t handle queso right now.

I’m sharing this to urge you to not be so concerned with how a person looks that you ignore how they feel.

Likewise, let’s not be so concerned with a woman’s appearance that we overlook the work she does or the kind of person she strives to be.