Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How radio host and survivor Ebony Steele learned she is 'not her hair'
ESSAY - My initial thought at the idea of listeners finding out about my diagnosis was shame. Young, hip, and pop culture -- my professional image -- does not mesh with breast cancer. After all, breast cancer is an older white woman’s disease, isn’t it? No...
The importance of family has never rung more true than when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35. Only when I saw the look in my mom, dad and sister’s eyes did I immediately become aware that the impact would so completely permeate those closest to me. Not only did I have to battle the disease, but they would go through the emotional trial of breast cancer as well.
Naturally, the first words out of my mouth to my doctor were, “Am I going to die?” Leaving this earth prematurely had never crossed my mind, so my entire perspective changed in an instant with those simple words.
But words are powerful. The thoughts of the mind can be reinscribed there by our very words.
Dealing with the diagnosis
For the first two weeks, I had a pity party—you know the one where no one is invited and no one wants to come. I was in, what I considered so far, the prime of my life. I had a dream job on national syndicated radio, where I was finding success and happiness. But with the diagnosis, I envisioned nothing but sadness and doom in my future.
Furthermore, I was only two months into this radio job — and into my move to Dallas from Birmingham, Alabama, the place I had lived all my life. I was out of my comfort zone with my support system far away. Then I contemplated what the listeners would think of me.
My initial thought at the idea of listeners finding out about my diagnosis was shame. Young, hip, and pop culture — my professional image — does not mesh with breast cancer. After all, breast cancer is an older white woman’s disease, isn’t it?
Using radio to reach others
Fortunately, my thought process changed. “Why me” would be quickly replaced with “why not me.” In my own grand scheme of things, my diagnosis had the ability to make more of an impact because of who I am, challenging me to use my platform to reach millions of listeners in all walks of life.
My healing process came from the feedback of sharing. Surprisingly, many men reached out to me asking questions, detailing their experiences with the women in their lives who had breast cancer.
Prayerfully determined not to go out on disability, I endured four rounds of chemotherapy, flying weekly from Dallas to Birmingham. To most, chemo equals hair loss and weakness. To me, wig shopping with girlfriends, having a peach fuzz scalp, and learning to smile through it all set me free.
Helping others cope
As a result of this life-threatening situation, I learned who I was and how to relate to the people in my life. My mom would call, and I would tell her, “I love you Mommy, but don’t do the baby talk.” I decided I was not sick and my condition was only temporary.
Here is how you can help others with breast cancer.
First of all, just pray. Constantly staying in prayer is a must. Yet, everybody’s support needs are going to be different. So, I think listening to the person that’s going through breast cancer and seeing where they need support is important, because some people want to be left alone. Some people want to be treated normally. Some people want to take a short disability leave from their responsibilities. Other’s don’t.
Whatever “support” that person needs, just have those ears wide open to listen.
Learning that I am not my hair
My greatest moment came during the annual recital of my dance studio in Birmingham.
At the finale, the teachers performed a piece to India.Arie’s hit “I am Not My Hair.” During the dance, every teacher removed wigs revealing their everyday hairstyle, with me removing mine last to show my bald head.
With more than one thousand students and guests in the audience, I found an interpretive way to express my experience with breast cancer by doing what I love most. I am not my hair.
I am beautiful. I am strong. I am the face of a breast cancer survivor.
Ebony Steele is co-host of The Rickey Smiley Morning Show, which is nationally syndicated in 45 markets with 6.5 million listeners. She was named one of the Top 30 Women in Media recently on a list led by Oprah Winfrey. Steele is proud to be a Susan G. Komen Circle of Promise Ambassador and founder of the Bare Chest for Breast Cancer All-Male Runway Show. To stay updated on this campaign and other future initiatives, follow Ebony on Twitter @EbonySteele. Feel free to leave comments or encouraging words of support by using the official hashtag #STEELESurviving. Her website is www.EbonySteele.com. Please visit the website for information on upcoming dates and venues.