Tuesday, June 29, 2021

“Taking a Walk on the Wild Side” by Sara Aharon

During my long and grueling treatment for breast cancer , which included chemo, surgery and radiation, I began journaling about my experiences, both as a coping strategy and as a way of keeping my friends posted about my situation. I found this process extremely therapeutic, both the writing and the sharing and support I received from friends who received my long missives. 

The following is an excerpt from my journal.

January 14, 2016

I feel human for the first time today, seven days after my third chemo. So I ask my husband to take me to a wig shop. We are in Vegas this week, and after careful research, he finds a reputable wig shop. Rows and rows of gorgeous wigs: pretty, noble, chic, curly, straight, alluring, cultured, mature, and in a range of colours and lengths. We stroll, admire and coo. I pick a few, but the moment I meet her, I know we were meant to be together.

The saleswoman is skeptical at first. She has me try several wigs she selected for me. They all look wrong, merely hiding the trademark baldness of cancer in an obvious way. But, when I put her on, even the saleswoman gasps. Styled unevenly as if no one can tame her, yet smooth like melted mercury; she works quite the gravitational pull.

I call her: Wiggy Stardust. 

I know what you’re thinking. I’m plagiarizing from David Bowie and, worse, he’s left this planet so he can’t protest. Not so. It’s an homage to my hero. I was distraught to hear that he died at the young age of 69 last Sunday. In my late teens and twenties, he was the closest thing I had to an idol.

Bowie’s haunting alter-egos fascinated me. I was captivated by his music and ever-changing style. I found him superbly handsome in an androgynous vanilla-scented kind of way. The combination of his versatile music, rule breaking and pushing limits, sense of fun, fashion and character creations, was unparalleled.  

Still, why Wiggy Stardust?

Bowie was the ultimate chameleon who repeatedly reinvented himself. He once said in an interview that he was extremely shy and ‘wearing’ these alter egos or personas allowed him to go onstage and perform with confidence. I believe that he also bravely expressed parts of himself that the rest of us suppress in fear of judgment.  Ziggy Stardust was my favourite of Bowie’s alter egos. I call on him for a dose of courage and inspiration.

Recently I saw Kinky Boots (twice!) and thought of Bowie. I saw it the first time before my cancer diagnosis with my older daughter. I could not stop raving about the show. Less than a month later, post diagnosis, I went again with my best friend who came from overseas to support me.

Seeing the musical with her after my first chemo lifted my spirit for weeks. Especially the Drag Queens’ numbers which I could now sing along to. It was intoxicating. Drag Queens embody for me what Bowie was all about – a celebration of hidden personas. Maybe I was so drawn to this show because I could use a little help unleashing my own hidden personas at a time I needed them most. 

For me, the recent diagnosis of cancer was inevitably a call to push myself beyond my limits, farther than what I thought was possible. A call and a challenge to reinvent myself. My old self, while it had some good resources and skills, had not been equipped to deal with this aggressive cancer and the equally aggressive treatment.

My first alter-ego post-diagnosis was Pink. I zoomed in on this funky pink wig at the Princess Margaret Hospital wig and hat shop. In the pink wig, I am no longer a 53-year-old woman with two cancer diagnoses in two years who has every excuse to feel defeated. Pink cures the blues. She loves taking selfies at parties and making people smile.

With Wiggy on, I am glam. I am fully alive, upward and forward-looking and have no room for doubts or regrets. The possibilities ahead are endless, even though life isn’t.

I wonder what other personas I am yet to discover. It will be my gift to myself in the second part of chemo.

This whole experience has unleashed the wild side within, manifesting itself in kinky boots, wigs and a trip to a realm I hadn’t yet allowed myself to explore. And in return, these personas make me feel hyper-alive and fully myself.  

Thank you and goodbye Starman – see you in heaven, but not too soon. In the meantime, I plan to boogie some more, on the wild side.

Sara Aharon lives in Toronto. She is the proud mother of two adult daughters. These days she makes her living as a virtual psychologist, and since she has more time on her hands, she writes about plagues (and other things).

 See details of Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

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