Like most days at the gym, I head to the sauna to relax for just a bit after my workout and before I pick my kids up from the kids’ club. Today, seems like any other day. I sit in the women’s sauna with my bandana on my head, my mask across my face to protect my very weakened immune system, and I listen to music on my iPod. And as usual, at some point, I take my bandana off and sit there in all my baldness, because, well, it’s hot. I’m used to the stares by now, and I figure it is in the women’s locker room so I’m safe.
Then, the door opens. A woman walks in, takes one look at me, shrieks in horror and runs out. At first, I smile. Did that just happen? How silly is that? Am I really that scary? It’s just a bald head, and a medical mask. I want to walk out after her and explain, that I’m not a creep or an oddball. I just have cancer, and these are the effects from chemo. Oh, and I’m actually pretty nice too. But I don’t. I stay seated. A few moments later, another woman walks in, acts like she is dusting something off the bench while staring at me. She then walks out. It is so awkward that I can only assume that this is the other woman’s friend who has come in to see if a masked bald person is really sitting in the sauna. Yes, I really am. I’m here. I want to go after her too, because now I’m a little angry, but I know my words won’t turn out well. I decide to let it be.
As I sit back and listen to my music, I replay in my mind what just happened. Did someone really just shriek in terror and leave the sauna over the way I look? They did. They really just did. My shield starts to crumble. I try and keep it intact, but I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about what just happened, and how I must look like a science experiment gone horribly wrong. I play the moment over and over again in my mind. I can’t help it. Tears well up and start to fall. I put my bandana back on, close my eyes, and silently cry. I have never felt so ugly.
I sit for quite a while until I can gather up the courage to leave. When I finally do, I run into two other gym goers in the locker room that I haven’t seen in quite a while. They of course ask me why I have a mask on and seem genuinely concerned. I explain that I have breast cancer, and I am just finishing chemo. They see the tears in my eyes, and so I tell them what just happened to me in the sauna. Immediately, their eyes widen, and they say almost in unison, “Screw them!!!! That’s their problem not yours.” They tell me that I am beautiful, strong and that no one comes to the gym on chemo except a very strong warrior. They continue to console me until I believe them. They do not leave until my tears dry, and there is a smile on my face.
As I leave the locker room, I am in awe of how the actions of two women had me in tears and wanting to crawl into a hole. Then moments later, the actions of two other women convinced me that I am Captain America. I walk out the gym doors with my bald head held high, my shield back on and a huge realization of the weight of people’s actions. Actions really do speak louder than words.