There was a time during my cancer treatments when I could hardly get out of bed (or off the toilet). Browsing the Internet was my only form of contact with the outside world. It was during one of these voyeuristic social escapes nestled inside of my sheets that I came across an article that made a deep impression on me. The article was cancer-related and featured an image of a bald lady dressed up as Wonder Woman. There was something about the familiar costume mixed with her hairless features that sparked excitement in my soul. I wondered what other costumes might be fitting for someone going through cancer treatments. Excited to have found something new to browse, I started scrolling through costume ideas.
Before cancer, I used to love making costumes for my children. Everything was hand-made, and I would spend a great deal of time sewing our crazy costume ideas together that received lots of smiles, compliments, and yes, extra candy for my boys. The excitement in their eyes was undeniable every time. It’s the best feeling in the world to know your children are happy. It was a time I loved and would get incredibly excited about, and here I was getting that electrifying feeling in my tummy again. A feeling I hadn’t felt since before the word “cancer” was introduced into my life. It was awesome. I wasn’t thinking about chemo or nausea or being stuck in bed anymore… I was thinking about costumes for bald people.
These costumes were always unique and worn to every one of my treatments. They not only cheered me up but had a positive impact on my kids. My 16 year old liked the idea enough to share the pictures with his friends, signaling a shift away from the anger and sadness he had been previously expressing. He was laughing and being silly because of my outfits. The process of brainstorming and creating these characters added a layer of play which took the edge off the seriousness of cancer for everyone. Breaking this tension was essential for me.
There were plenty of days that my children had to see me in ways no child should ever have to see their parent. I am a single mother, so there wasn’t anyone to jump in and take over for my kids. I had to either figure out how to conjure up the strength to do all the things that needed to be done (dinner, laundry, taking care of our pets, checking homework, etc.), or the kids would have to learn to do these things on their own. The hard days pushed us all to be more than we had been before.
My costumes were positively received outside my family as well. Friends, nurses, and even strangers let me know that they enjoyed them. It became routine for my nurses to ask me what my outfit for the day would be when I arrived for my chemo. Before the treatment began, I would sneak away into the bathroom and put on my alter-ego for the day.
I also shared photos of the costumes on my social media accounts and they were a big hit. People loved them, and I would receive letters online from strangers thanking me, telling me that my pictures, which represented positivity and hope to them, uplifted them in so many ways. I was surprised with how huge of an impact these pictures had, but I was incredibly happy that I could help others feel better. Sharing my creativity became something so much bigger than me cheering my children and myself up, it became a fun event that included everyone. That was the part I really loved the most: the far-reaching effects of something so simple.
It wasn’t clear at the time, but looking back, I realize what an important lesson I was learning and teaching my children. It was a lesson in finding ways to shift perceptions. I was going from being scared of and dreading my chemo days to being excited about planning a costume. The planning gave my mind an escape and the dress up days were thrilling and fun. I was learning how to soothe myself in healthy ways during a time when I was absolutely devastated. In my opinion, that is one of the most important things anyone can learn to do. Life gets hard, more for some than for others, but we all have to face pain in our lifetime. I want to teach my children the ability to find healthy ways to deal with that pain. I want to know they can cheer themselves up and grow wise, strong and kind through these rough times, and not hurt more than is necessary.
Cancer pushes us past the limits of strength we thought we had. As parents, that’s especially true. We find ways to laugh, even through all the pain, with our children. That’s what these costumes did for my little family, and I hope for others as well.
Words and Images by Ramona Robinson, Artist, Hypnotist. Diagnosed at 35. IDC with solid DCIS, Stage II. HER2+.