When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was look in the mirror. I did the same thing yesterday and quite possibly every single day since I was diagnosed. Vanity? Hardly. Rather, I am making sure that my face is still symmetrical. You see – this tumor grows and impedes many cranial nerves, facial nerve included. Although it is quite rare that facial asymmetry occurs before surgery, it can still happen. And the fact that half of my face is numb, makes me very nervous that this is going to happen to me. I just turned 30, I’ve always hid behind a smile, and the fact that I may lose mine is undoubtedly my greatest fear.
Why is it that my greatest fear is the fact that I could lose my smile? Shouldn’t I just be grateful that I am going to survive a large brain tumor? And that I will overcome a great battle and not only live, but thrive because of it? Yet again, I sense that this experience is teaching me about the important things in life in more ways than one.
Ever since I was a little girl, I cared about the way I looked. Not only did my clothing always match (thanks mom) – but I wouldn’t even leave the house if there was a mere bump in my pony tail. I would pose for photos and smile at everyone that came my way. Although I did have the “ugly” stage (short thick bangs were not my thing), I thought that I had outgrown my insecurities and put forth all the effort in the world to sustain what I considered “good looks”.
Throughout my teenage years, I would dye my hair like the rest of us, wear push-up bras and high heels and put on way too much make up. Even after all that effort, I would be hard on myself and always wanted to change something about the way that I looked. Reflecting back, I see a well put together girl who was just dying to be accepted. I see someone who didn’t need to put in all that effort because without it, she was beautiful and pure. I see someone who valued appearance way too much but didn’t even really know why.
In a world saturated of selfies, I have come accustom to the addiction of looking good. With immediate gratification and a temporary boost of self-esteem, I have truly caved into this phenomenon. I have been called a ‘selfie queen’ more than once – and god forbid anyone look through my phone – the amount of selfies I have actually taken would embarrass the heck out of me. Recently though, these photos have changed. Instead of sending a selfie and expecting a compliment back, I ask “is my smile still even?” “Do you see a droop?” Those on the receiving end usually see that something has changed. There are tears in my eyes, not a touch of make-up on, and my hair is almost always out of place. They usually say they don’t notice and that it’s all in my head. Perhaps it’s the facial numbness? Or the fact that I’ve lost my smile in other ways? Either way, I’m just starting to realize a crooked smile is better than none. And a beautiful heart trumps any standard of appearance any day.
“It is likely that you will experience mild to moderate facial weakness after your surgery. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes it takes months, but it is likely that it will not be permanent”
Nobody ever stays sad forever. Especially not me. I am accepting the challenges that I am going to face these upcoming months. I may lose my balance, but I have support to lean on. I may lose my hearing, but I have perfect hearing on the other side. I may have a brain tumor, but it can be removed once and may never return. I may lose my smile, but I will find my soul. I will still be able to laugh. I can still share my story. I can still exude empathy, warmth, love, generosity, humour and strength. I can inspire others to smile again even if their circumstance is grim.
Today I feel beautiful. Not because of the way that I look, but the way that I feel. Somebody messaged me last night saying that my blog has inspired them to see the doctor after putting it off for way too long. Somebody else messaged me telling me to stay strong because they went through the same thing. My friends, family, and strangers have all told me that I am inspiring others through the strength of telling my story. And although I don’t see it that way, and feel so weak emotionally some days – I am truly happy that I am able to touch others. This makes me realize that I am beautiful even without a smile on my face right now. I am beautiful without make up – I am beautiful because I am authentic and vulnerable – and I’m beautiful because I am courageous. And as each day goes on, I see the beauty in small things I would normally bypass. I am forever grateful for these lessons that I am learning along the way.