In her PEOPLE.com blog, Diem Brown, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge contestant recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the second time, opens up about her desire for a child and the ups and downs of cancer and fertility procedures.
Have you ever had a event that you are equally excited and nervous about? A certain holiday party where you want to look your best because your ex will be there; a high school reunion where you’ll come face-to-face with classmates you want to impress; or a photo shoot where you’ll reveal your bald bulbous head for the first time in front eyes other than your own? Well, the latter of the three applies to me, but I think we can all relate to an event that makes us as equally excited and nervous.
In Case You Missed It: Diem’s First Hair Loss Video
However, where I fall very short is in person. I have not let anyone see me bald.
For some reason, seeing someone’s eyes on me face-to-face has caused so much apprehension. No one, not even my boyfriend or family, has seen me bald in person yet. I have gotten better about accepting my new look personally, but I have this weird fear about what others see when they look at me with no hat, wig or head wrap to hide my bald head. I know my every insecurity is at an all time high because of chemo, because of the steroids etc., but I still fear the judgment as silly as that might sound.
I remember searching “bald girls” on Google Images after I was diagnosed with cancer the first time around and up popped pictures of the beautiful Natalie Portman and Demi Moore. I felt so relieved to see these Hollywood actresses make having a shaved head look sexy and cool, but I wanted to see more. I wanted to see pictures of girls who were bald because of chemotherapy. I needed to see what a cancer patient on chemo and on all the steroids looks like.
Now it’s six years later and if you Google Image search “bald girls,” the same Natalie and Demi images pop up, along with a fun website that has Photo Shopped various celebrities like Angelina Jolie to Halle Berry to depict what they would look like bald. These images are beautiful – but the effect that multiple rounds of chemo, steroids shots and countless prescriptions have on you physically is much different than just sporting a buzz cut. I realized I wanted to do a photo shoot that didn’t scream “cancer” but instead screamed that being bald from chemo can be just as cool, artistic and beautiful as G.I. Jane!
The Big Day
The morning of the shoot I was so, so nervous. I got out of the shower and just stared at myself. “Okay you got this, it isn’t that big of a deal, no one will judge you so stop being a crazy person!” I said.
I believe some of my apprehension comes from my experience taking off my wig on MTV’s The Duel six years ago. So many viewers sent messages of support and admiration, while others reacted in disgust and hate. “God please tell Diem to put that wig back on. She looks like a transvestite without it!” Sadly comments of that nature stick with you, so although I was excited to do a bald photo shoot, my inner insecurity naysayer kept popping up.
Upon arriving at the PEOPLE shoot with my chemo cap on, I could see the set looked amazing! The room was filled with the nicest, most understanding people you can imagine, and I felt my nerves start to ease. The makeup artist started wiping off my makeup and although I was like, “Oh great, say bye bye to the eyebrows I just painted on,” he assured me I was in great hands. “They would like to start with some natural shots and don’t worry I won’t take off all your eyebrows” he said with a smile.
As I walked on set, I knew the moment was about to happen, time to rip off that Band-Aid. I have always hid behind my hair, or most recently hid behind hats and bandanas, so taking it all off really does feel extremely raw and makes you feel incredibly vulnerable.
The photographer started shooting to test the lighting and – boom – my nerves started up once again. I knew in mere moments my lovely chemo hat had to be tossed off. I started knotting and twirling my fingers trying to displace my anxiety. But I could feel the tears welling up, burning like fire in my eyes, and on cue my throat started becoming tense.
“Is it okay if I just take it off now? The anticipation is making me crazy,” I blurted out with a laugh trying to control my emotions.
“Of course. Any time you’re ready sweetie,” the photographer chirped.
My hands fiddling like a mad woman, I started caressing my chemo cap while chanting in my head, “Just do it, come on you baby… just do it,” and with a flick my cap was off and I was no longer able to hold back my welled up tears.
“Wow, okay here we go, here I am y’all” I thought to myself. It’s truly insane how those first moments being bald in front of other people feel. You feel completely raw and you almost feel naked. Pulling myself together I quickly wiped away my tears and said, “Okay, let’s go, let’s do this!”
I continued to feel raw and almost naked during most of that first outfit. I could not look anyone in the eye. I was only able to look directly at inanimate objects like a camera lens or the floor where my chemo cap was.
But as the day went on, I became more and more comfortable and even stopped putting my chemo cap back on in between the outfit changes. I started feeling strong and kept reminding myself of the image I would have liked to see six years ago Googling “bald girls.”
I didn’t want the image to scream “cancer” but instead wanted the image to scream strength, determination and for the images to deliver a cool confident vibe like I saw in Natalie Portman’s shaved head pics. Hell, I’ll be honest, I wanted to feel like I looked sexy in some of the pics just like those Hollywood chicks always seem to.
By the last outfit the music started pumping Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” so of course I started dancing to the beat of the chorus. I went from a scared, crying, anxious girl at the start of the shoot to a jumping, laughing, dancing manic girl on set by the end of the day. It was an amazing experience and I’m so very happy I went through with it… insecurities and all!
That said, whatever event you might have coming up …do it! Go for it! Don’t let your insecurities hold you back. We all have them and we all have the ability to push those insecurities to the ground and stomp them out.
In the end, you can only grow by allowing yourself to be vulnerable and you will feel a sense of pride once you put yourself out there in spite of your stupid lil inner insecurity naysayer!
Check back for updates every Thursday: Diem will be chronicling exclusively for PEOPLE.com her journey through fertility treatments, chemotherapy and her quest to educate others about ovarian health. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiemBrown.
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