Brianna Miller is a 22-year-old from Southern California who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma shortly before her 21st birthday. She is a patient at CHOC Hospital. In this series, she takes readers along on her look back at her journey with cancer.
At my university, I am a member of the Kappa Delta sorority. One of the initiatives that most important to our sorority is the Confidence Coalition, which is exactly what it sounds like- a movement to help build confidence in girls and women. Something that drew me to this group of women during sorority recruitment was this platform of confidence because it is truly alarming the number of women who struggle with self-image, starting at such an early age. I wanted to be part of what the amazing things they were doing at the local and national level, to help women realize their worth and cultivate a healthy and positive self-image. Little did I know how much my own attitude towards confidence would change just a few years later when I was diagnosed with cancer just before my 21st birthday.
My own personal attitude towards confidence certainly changed the minute I was diagnosed with cancer. Everyone has their own personal insecurities, and even before I was diagnosed with cancer there were things I wished I could’ve changed about myself. When I was diagnosed, I immediately felt as if these insecurities were magnified because I knew that I would soon undergo some physical changes, which can be a side-effect of chemotherapy. The thought of losing my hair scared me, even more so than the actual disease that was trying to kill me because my hair was something I could see, and I couldn’t see my cancer. The hardest I ever cried during treatment was the first time I took a shower and clumps of my hair started coming out in my hands.
Cancer treatment can cause many other physical changes besides losing your hair. For me, chemo caused fatigue and completely changed my eating habits, meaning I was less active but also eating less. I’ve lost quite a bit of muscle mass and a fair amount of weight because of this. Different central line placements have left me with a few new scars. A few months after I started to lose my hair, my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out as well. These physical changes have caused me to reevaluate my own idea of confidence and the role beauty standards play in my life. Looking back, I realize that my relationships before I had cancer were based on vanity. Because of this, a fair amount of my own confidence stemmed from validation from others, which became an unhealthy cycle.
Physical changes from chemo have allowed me to flip this script, and I’ve found that my own intrinsic sense of confidence has actually increased. I had no say in getting cancer, and no say in the side effects that come with chemo, but I have the biggest gift in that I get to choose how to respond to it. Once my hair started falling out, I decided to shave it rather than prolong the inevitable. It was one of the toughest things I’ve done, but once it was over, I felt an immediate sense of relief, and I was happy that it happened on my own terms. When I go out in public, I do so with a bald head. People always stare, but as cliché as it sounds, to me it is just a physical representation of my strength. I’ve gone through a lot more than most people will endure in their whole lifetime, and it just so happens that there are some physical reminders that come with it.
Hair will eventually grow back, and scars will fade, but the personal growth I’ve made will stay with me for the rest of my life. I always felt a connection to my sorority’s platform of confidence, but it wasn’t until my own confidence was essentially shattered and rebuilt that I truly understood the importance of confidence and self-image in a woman’s life.
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CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the cancer specialty.