My confidence journey has waxed and waned through my 33 years of life. When I was 5 years old I was in a golf cart accident. While sitting on my Dad’s lap the golf cart began to slip down a steep wet grass hill into a forest where a tree branch cut up the entire right side of my face. The deep cut required countless stitches. My Dad felt guilty he had ruined his little girl’s whole life by scaring her face. Fortunately, it healed well and I had minimal scarring.
My Dad always told me how beautiful I was on both the inside AND outside. And I believed him. My father’s confidence meant the world to me as a little girl. I wasn’t scarred by this experience emotionally. In fact, I actually LOVED telling this story of my childhood, it was “the thing” that made me unique. My parents always told me I was smart and talented which boosted my confidence that I could succeed and be happy in life.
Fast forward to the awkward self conscious teenage years when you realize the truth of the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Everyone else seemed prettier, smarter and more talented than I was, so where did I fit in? My Mom’s words and example rang true as I saw her inward character glow by the acts of service she performed daily. She always treated people with kindness and forgot herself as she helped those around her. She had strength, energy and true happiness even in a demanding life raising 7 kids. My mom was also a nurse and I knew it was the career path I wanted for myself. What I didn’t know was how profoundly this career decision would affect my life (I guess careers usually do that).
I became fascinated with Cancer and have practiced as an Oncology R.N. for over 13 years. But, as a new nurse I had become so focused on the tasks I was assigned to do I would often forget I was taking care of a real person. I needed to make a change.
As I took the time to really listen to my patient’s stories, my life changed for the better. It is truly an honor to converse with such courageous humans faced with the immense battle against cancer. They come from every walk of life and no one has the same story to tell. Everyone is unique even if they share the same cancer diagnosis. Seeing individuals fighting cancer has given me confidence to live life to the fullest and be grateful everyday for my “ordinary” life.
I have always been a private person and find it difficult to open up and share personal things about myself. Though I enjoyed getting to know my patients and listening to their life stories, I was careful not to share too much about my own personal life. It is hard to get to know someone then lose them. I never wanted to become too emotionally attached to my patients to later deal with the devastation of eventually losing them to their war against cancer. Cancer has a way of leaving countless battle wounds on everyone involved. However, not all would lose their battle and the happiness in cure was overwhelming. Knowing I played a small role in their recovery brought me great fulfillment. Even though relationships are painful at times, you will never get to experience the joy unless you are willing to endure the hard things.
When I started having children I began to feel a deeper connection to my patients because most of them were parents too. We shared common ground and a whole new world was opened up to me as I bonded more with my patients. I realized sharing experiences goes both ways. The more you open up and tell about yourself the more confidence it gives the other person to do the same. I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten to know such amazing people on their Cancer journeys- to see all their scars on the outside and many unseen scars on the inside. They have helped shaped me into the person I am today and I have a deeper confidence in all my relationships. My personal story does matter and I am important.
At the age of 4, my daughter would scream in pain every time she would spend time in the sun, having her face, hands and feet swell. I felt discouraged as a mother and nurse, feeling helpless and not knowing how to “fix” my little girl.
Three years later we finally received a diagnosis. She has a rare blood disorder called Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) causing these crazy, very painful reactions. Though I am relieved to know the diagnosis, it is still difficult to see my own child suffer. There is no cure for her blood disorder and she will have to deal with not being “normal” her entire life. She will always have to avoid sun exposure and cover her skin.
She feels embarrassed to wear hats, gloves, shoes, hats and zinc all over her face just to go swimming. My own childhood self consciousness ached for her. As her mother, all I can do is tell her this is her “unique” thing and part of HER story. I was able to share my golf cart story with her and how my “scar” is what makes me unique and now she has hers. Knowing people’s stories change how we see them and helps us understand who they really are. She does not have to be just like the other kids. It is about who she is on the inside that makes her beautiful. She has a new confidence to face this trial with optimism and gratitude knowing her diagnosis is not life threatening.
I often ask myself these questions. “Do I still believe my own words? Do I still look at others and judge them without knowing their story or compare myself and think negatively that I am not enough in this world because there is always someone better?”
Becoming a Mother has pushed me to find out who I am and who I want to become. Now that I have 3 beautiful daughters of my own I want them to be confident in who they are and never worry about what others think of them. I want them to know they are special, they are unique and they are enough. I want them to see me feel comfortable and happy in my own skin. I want them to have hope in their own futures. I want to teach them by loving others they will learn to love themselves. Even though I may not do anything big in this world, the small acts will add up and my ordinary life can become something extraordinary.
And this is my, “mybrilliantconfidence” story.
By: Rachael Alexander
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