4 min read

The Journey

Feb 23, 2023 6:30:00 AM

The Journey - Cropped

I’ve seen the same hairstylist for a few years and as a result, occasionally my haircuts turn into a free therapy session. (You know how it goes, you go in for a haircut and some how you’re confessing your biggest problems to a relative stranger while awkwardly looking at your reflection in the mirror...)

During a recent “therapy session” we were discussing my cut and style options. The conversation led to my usual comment of “Well, if only it was longer, I would do this …” My stylist looked at me and replied sincerely “Your hair is on a journey. Let’s stop trying to get here or there, and just appreciate where it is right now.”

She may have been talking about my hair, but we both knew she was alluding to something much bigger.

Let me give a little background to the story...

In late 2020, I began having pain in my left leg. I chalked it up to getting older, too much time at my desk, too much time outside walking, too much carrying my 18-month-old around. Finally, I went for an orthopedic consultation. After a few simple x-rays, she said the words I will never forget: “There is something in your bone, and it is very possible that its cancer.”

The room immediately started spinning and my cognitive function stopped. I had gone to the appointment alone, thinking I was just going to get a cortisone shot and some physical therapy exercises. Instead, I was sent immediately for blood work and had to ask four times how to get out of their office (open the door, turn right to the elevator – yes that simple, but I had to ask multiple times). Still not thinking correctly, I called my husband from the waiting area and blurted out “I have to get blood work because I have cancer” and hung up on him as the nurse called me back into the lab.

The diagnosis was diffuse large b-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, primary bone. The treatment was to be six rounds of chemotherapy, starting as soon as possible. The next six months would be spent planning our lives around my three-week treatment cycle. Chemo/sick for a week, then two weeks of relative normalcy; rinse/wash/repeat six times. This would be my life from March through July, and then we would reevaluate. And while my cancer was overall treatable, they warned me the lifesaving drugs could do significant damage to my major organs, cause neuropathy and cognitive function issues, and the most obvious to the world, cause complete hair loss.

ImageI had never considered myself vain, but I learned that part of my identity was rooted in appearance, whether I liked it or not. My parents tell stories of the “full head of dark brown hair” I was born with and every picture since has included thick, stick straight dark brown hair – in various trends, lengths, and styles (including a circa 1995 wannabe “the Rachel” haircut).

Suddenly, that piece of my identity was gone and I had no choice in the matter. Looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself became a physical manifestation of the fear I couldn’t escape, the fear of the unknown.

My chemotherapy regime was intense and devastating. It broke me physical, mentally, and emotionally - to unexplainable depths. But, I’m a big believer in silver linings and thankfully, that list was long - the treatment plan was only six months long; I had a great employer who allowed me to do what I needed during this period – they repeatedly mailed care packages to my kids, covered my workloads, and allowed me to focus on healing; clients sent me flowers every treatment; family took care of me; friends created a meal train; I received endless well wishes and cards; I found a new community of fellow cancer patients and a new developed a new level of empathy for others.

At the end of July, my post treatment PET scan showed no evidence of disease. The best possible outcome. Then, slowly but surely, my reflection in the mirror started to change from bald to thick dark fuzz to a head full of curls...

Which brings me back to that haircut and those words of wisdom: “Your hair is on a journey. Let’s stop trying to get here or there, and just appreciate where it is right now.” She was trying to tell me to slow down and appreciate where I was at right now on my journey. To be thankful for how far I’d come and to try to let go of worrying about what was ahead.

What journey are you on right now?

Are you just racing to some fictitious future point where things will be perfect? Searching ahead for a magic bullet that will fix everything because THEN life will be easier, happier, or more satisfying?

What if you were forced to slow down and accept the beauty in the here and now? Silver linings are all over this journey – even in the darkest clouds – we just have to be open to seeing them. It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come as you push for the next milestone. But pause. Take a moment. Try to appreciate that getting here wasn’t easy, but likely a past version of yourself would already be in awe of today.

Eighteen months later, I’m starting to appreciate the beauty in the new. It’s a symbol of new beginnings, a reminder that I’m strong enough to face whatever challenges come my way. I have no idea what lies ahead – for my health or my hairstyles – but for today, I’m grateful for exactly where I’m at on the journey.

Topics: Executive
Courtney Montfort

Written by Courtney Montfort

Courtney is a Managing Principal at Gibson. She specializes in identifying business, strategic, and hazard risk exposures. Courtney consults with clients to develop and implement strategies to effectively and efficiently grow and protect their businesses. She is also a member of Gibson's Board of Directors. Read Courtney's Full Bio