Guest op-ed: Taking pride in taking care of yourself

A few weeks ago, I found myself staring at eyebrow stencils online, wondering if I would be able to pull off realistic-looking eyebrows using something called a “Brow Sculpting Marker” by Laura Geller.

I spent hours agonizing over whether or not to press “buy” with the Overnight Shipping option before I realized that I would most likely give myself mismatched eyebrows. So I did the sensible thing recommended by a support group for men without eyebrows and ordered a try-on kit from Warby Parker.

That day was also my 30th birthday, and I was really missing my eyebrows. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Large B-Cell Lymphoma. For those who were as ignorant as I was about medical jargon, it meant I had C-A-N-C-E-R. What I had attributed to just really bad allergies and “normal” chest pains turned out to be a mass the size of a baseball in my chest.

What followed in very quick succession were appointments with an oncologist, scans, a biopsy, and treatment. In the beginning, I was determined not to let the medical issues affect my life. I found myself sending emails to clients from my hospital bed, trying my best to keep things as normal as possible for as long as I could. But the truth about cancer treatment is that it takes a lot out of you. And there is no such thing as a completely normal life while you are going through treatment.

For six months, it was appointments every week with my oncologist, and week-long hospital stays for my chemo treatments. I shaved my head earlier in anticipation of the hair loss, and eventually the eyebrows and facial hair went as well.

Despite going through all of this, I had a lot of things to be grateful for. For the first time, I had health coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. I had doctors I trusted enough not to second-guess their opinions with Google searches. I had friends who were willing to listen to my cancer jokes, family with whom I finally had a relationship and who stayed with me in my hospital room despite my protests, and activists and leaders in the community who kept reminding me that it was OK to take care of myself.

As someone who believed that being a supporter of the community meant volunteering and giving my time to organizations like Atlanta Pride, Lost-N-Found, and the National Queer and Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), the last part was the most important. Taking care of myself meant that I had a responsibility to make sure that I was at my best for the causes I believed in, and if that meant taking a break, recuperating, and dealing with something like cancer, then I had to do it.

Throughout my treatment, I had reminders of why I loved my community. One of my hospital rooms at Emory Midtown Hospital had what I described as a “perfect” view of the start of the Atlanta Pride Parade on Peachtree Street in front of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. When the chemo started to affect my eating habits, James at the Health Initiative got me in touch with the wonderful Lynne at Sawicki’s in Decatur, who prepared for me nutritious meals with my chemo treatments. NQAPIA released PSAs this summer of Asian parents who love their LGBTQ kids. This made me cry, as I had family members who stayed with me in the hospital, despite my protests.

Through the magic of modern medicine and the support of my friends and family, I am relieved to say that I am now officially in full remission. It took cancer to remind me that it was OK to take care of myself. As I walk around the Atlanta Pride festival this weekend, maybe a drag queen will take pity on me and show me how to give myself fabulous eyebrows.