Living authentically without cancer.

I’ve alluded to some interesting experiences lately on this blog and I was just encouraged by Antonio Centeno at Real Men Real Style to write it up for the benefit of my (and some of his) subscribers.  First of all, if you’re interested in listening to my tunes, you can hear a couple at ReverbNation or my full albums at Bandcamp, and here is my Facebook fan page with updates on my music and articles.  My apologies for the extra helping of self-promotion on this particular post, but I think I (just about) have the storage space necessary on this blog to contain my ego, and you don’t have to read, so no worries!

I’m currently sitting here in my recliner with sixteen penny- to nickel-sized gouges all over my body, covered in bandages.  The full significance of how I came to be in this unenviable position starts way back with me as a teenager.  Anyone who knew me in high school knew that I lived pretty authentically at the time.  I was a blossoming (AKA, not very good) artist and musician, a whirlwind of hormones and depression mostly, and the way I dressed reflected a desire to stand out and express myself.  I won’t go over a long list of fashion mistakes I made at the time, but perhaps I’ll just clue you in by noting I wore a denim jacket with about thirty button-pins and an iron-on Union Jack patch, and white sneakers that had been painted with acrylics in a color pattern that was just about as visually loud as an old school hip hop video.

I got better at writing and performing music and this personal expression with clothing extended to playing live shows, when I would spend hours before every performance searching for the exact combination of suits, ties, shirts, and shoes that would really make a statement.  Most often I’d play wearing a suit, which, I admit, made me look somewhat odd juxtaposed with my relatively comfortable band-mates.  But for me, it was about control.  I got a lot of stage fright when I played shows and this affected my playing, so wearing a suit allowed me to feel more confident and in control, even when I was incredibly nervous.

However, as my bands broke up and I got into graduate school for psychology, and my hair started to thin to the point where keeping it long was starting to be a really bad idea, I felt like I was losing several huge avenues of self-expression.  I suppose you could say I’ve been feeling like I’m in a slump since my last album was released.

What does this have to do with having bandages on my body?  Skin cancer runs in my family, and this potential has always been in the back of my mind.  I rarely get a lot of sun without sunscreen or a hat, and I wear long pants in all but the hottest weather.  But recently I decided that I was going to get my moles checked for the first time in my life.  It was mostly just a hunch that it needed to happen, and I was right.

Once I got to the dermatologist for what I thought was a routine examination, I found myself being handled by first one, then two, then three medical professionals (a nurse, a PA, and a doctor walked into a bar…), all with slight looks of concern on their faces.  They revealed that I had about fifteen worrisome moles on my body that would need to be biopsied right away.  Biopsies meant a shot of anesthetic at each site, and a scalpel cutting each mole either completely or almost completely off.  The doctor said she needed to let me know that, with so many moles being tested, the chance of at least one coming back as cancerous was much higher than if they just had a few to biopsy.  Skin cancer is not the worst of all cancers, of course, but my wife was about to have a baby, we’re incredibly poor, and I have a master’s thesis and doctoral interviews coming up.  Now was not the best time for this (as if there is a good time for cancer).

Worst of all was the fact that the biopsies would take 10 days to go to the lab and get tested.  This meant 10 days helping my wife prepare to have a child, plus the added suspense of wondering whether I had cancer.

During that time, as you might guess, I had a lot of time to think.  I thought about the way I was as a teenager, and how I’ve grown since then.  While I think I’m a much better person than I was, I also think there was a spark of something that I have lost over the years.  When I was younger my biggest drive was to live true to myself and express that in my appearance and behavior.  As I’ve gotten older, I used my music to express that part of myself, and so my creativity was compartmentalized into certain channels.  But I didn’t have as much time for those channels as I did before.

But the fact that I was sitting there with all these cuts on my body, waiting to have another son and for the lab results, made me reconsider my situation.  I realized that I couldn’t control whether I had cancer.  That was totally out of my power.  What I could control, however, was the manifestation of my drive for living authentically – true to myself.  When I was a teenager, every day I tried some new combination of clothing to express myself.  Now I had been falling into a rut of jeans and t-shirts.  I wanted to gain that sense of fashion courage back.  I had already decided to start re-educating myself about style, fashion, and my favorite clothing (suits) so that instead of just wearing ridiculous stuff like I did when I was a teenager, I was going to learn the language of clothing and learn how to really communicate.  Antonio’s videos and articles were actually a big help here (that’s why I was talking to him in the first place), but there are lots of great places online to go as well.  This experience with the dermatologist really made me decide to take it to the next level and put my self-education into practice.

That’s also when I decided to try some local thrift stores to see what I could find.  And that’s also when I made my recent big discovery (click to check it out if you haven’t already).  Can you believe a super poor graduate student with two children could have found over $1000 worth of brand new, hand-tailored men’s clothing at a tiny percentage of its real cost?  It was as if the universe were trying to help kick-start my attempt at living more authentically day-to-day.  I suddenly felt like I was in control again, not because I had spent a bunch of money, but because I had gone out of my way to go to that thrift store, for the sole purpose of finding a wardrobe that represented my seasoned, but still active artistic side a bit better.

Ultimately, I think, it should be the quest of every artist to integrate their art and their lifestyle.  Art isn’t something you just put onto a canvas, it is more an attempt at being true to one’s self and authentically expressing the things that are important to you.  For me, that meant retrieving the courage I had when I was a teenager to take risks in order to stand out from the crowd.  Now I can use the same sense of self-expression to put together a wardrobe that could help me get into a doctoral program, interview for a job or internship, or stand out as a college lab instructor.

For those of you still interested, no, I don’t have cancer.  Most of the moles were abnormal, and this means they went back and removed more of the margins around the moles once the previous wounds had already healed (thus, I am covered with large sores), but none of them were melanomas.  So perhaps this story doesn’t have the emotional “punch” it would have if I had actually been diagnosed with cancer.  However, for me, it was just a simple series of good decisions and coincidences that encouraged me to live more authentically, and recapture some of the artistic spirit I lost when I was a teenager.

So that’s the simple story.  I’m going to start trying to dress better.  For those of you still reading, think about the things you’ve been wanting to do with your life (picking up a new hobby, speaking a foreign language, traveling, expressing your feelings for someone, etc.) but something is preventing it (afraid what people might say, afraid of rejection, too lazy, can’t find the motivation, can’t find the money, etc.).  What is it, and what is holding you back?  Feel free to drop a note in the comments section – I made you read all this story, so the least I can do is allow you the same privilege.

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3 thoughts on “Living authentically without cancer.”

  1. This post has actually inspired me to make some pretty drastic changes in my life. For too long I’ve been really lazy complacent when it came to how I took care of myself (both physically and mentally) and now I’m going to try and work harder at making myself a better and healthier person. I’m going to start small by focusing on some diet, exercise, budget, and time management issues, and over time I hope to start actually putting thought into my personal style and appearance.

  2. Sweet. I’ve noticed that if I have a bit list of self-improvement things, focusing on one or two actually has residual changes in the other ones as well. In other words, the key is actually personality change, so once you have that down you don’t necessarily have to be going down a checklist. Let me know if you have any questions about suits/clothes and such.

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