This little nugget of an idea has been growing within me for months now. How many of you told me "Patience, Kayla. Get healthy and then go do what you need to"? Well the waiting time is over and today a dream came to life.
One of my first projects with Reimagine is launching the "I am not my.." campaign. So often we are labeled by our illnesses, symptoms, and diagnosis. "I am not my.." serves not only as a reminder, but also a celebration, of who we truly are. A passion of Reimagine is to helping people take their lives back from cancer. I'm hoping this helps.
I was inspired by personal experiences. When I was bald I was told I was less attractive and strangers just saw me as "a bald girl". I was pretty shocked by this because I felt very confident with myself after I got used to my new noggin and I didn't realize it stuck out that much to people. I guess I was oblivious to the stares. I talked to other women about this and found out that many husbands would make their wife wear a wig to be intimate, that their relationship changed when their body changed, etc. I was pretty damn disgusted. It's a strong word but I don't know how to better describe it. After all you're going through, who has the nerve to be that immature much less vocalize it? God forbid you look a little off when YOUR BODY IS BEING DESTROYED. I realize having problems with physical appearances can have a lot to do with being unable to handle the actual situation and can show up/be expressed in other forms. When people found out I don't have nipples I heard from about how weird they thought it was. Why would I want to feel like less of a woman? And even though it doesn’t bother me, shouldn’t I do it for my future spouse? Sorry--but I would never marry someone that loves me for my nipples. But then again, I plan on marrying a man, not a boy. So my disgust grew.
When I found out all of the things I was being labeled by I knew it meant others are/were too. I might not have nipples but I do have a big smile, I hold the SoCal record for the Blazin' Wings BWW challenge, I'm an opportunist, I act before thinking a lot of the time, and love people in big ways. Aren’t those things worth show casing? Shouldn’t we celebrate and embrace those things? If you’re going to label me, at least let me provide you with some labels to choose from.
So we're reaching out to other patients and survivors to celebrate all the beautiful things they are so everyone can forget about what they're not. A chance to celebrate? Yes. A chance to take control of something in your life? Absolutely.
We had our first event today at the Kickin' Cancer Expo in LA. Our booth invited people to name ways they were taking their life back from cancer. We had a photo booth set up where they held frames that said: I am not my...hair, cancer, sadness, scars, etc. Visitors came in, filled out their own phrase and we took their Polaroid picture in our "photo booth" and gave it to them as a memento of this special day. My favorite part was then asking them to sign our declaration wall with an I Am statement. Tell us what we can celebrate about you! My partner Cindy captured the experience with a few great moments:
2 . Of the people who participated almost every one of them began to cry when they experienced the power of taking their identity back from their illness.
3. One woman heard what we were doing and started crying when we invited her into our photo booth. So much that she couldn't even begin the exercise.
4. People passing by heard what we were doing and went and got their friends or family members and brought them over to us so they could experience the booth with them.
5. A surgeon at the event asked if he could feature us on his practice website. He loved the idea of "you are not your limitation"
6. And finally, when she stopped at the store on the way home, the deli clerk noticed our "I am not my cancer" shirts and spontaneously told her the story of his 22 year old cousin who had just died of brain cancer. He said "that message is so true. My cousin's brain cancer took over his life but it was NOT him, you know?" Yes, we know. Wow! The message of restoring people's identities during and after cancer was powerful and well received!
Some of my favorite takeaways (other than seeing an idea come to life) were:
*Seeing the emotions spilling out of our visitors. It's selfish, but there was a comfort in seeing that I wasn't alone with the way I felt. A strong sense of community was created and there's a need to help others find themselves once again. We're all in this together.
*Dana Patti, who grew up on Austin St. with me in Downers Grove, came out to spend the day at our booth. I just found out Dana lives in LA now and we were able to reconnect out here. Dana is also a young cancer survivor and therefore an automatic source of love and safety here in California. Plus she is fashionable and I could benefit to have an influence like that in my life. Dana has such a great spirit to her and I'm so excited to see our relationship bloom :)
*Spending the morning with some of my fabulous coworkers (and more importantly FRIENDS). Love my Reimagine family!
*Watching the creation of "I am" statements. Naming something that defined them was hard for many but the ways they would light up when sharing what we could celebrate about them.. that was everything! I loved hearing about all of the mothers, daughters, singers, jokesters, and friends. No one shared who they were without a big smile on their face.
*Having the support of my family there. There's no one else I would rather share the experience with. I was pretty nervous for the first event but our drive was full of dancing, singing, and donuts. We were laughing and having a blast. I feel like I have been taking a lot of risks lately but it's amazing how capable love can make you feel.
When I think of my family and friends, all of the people who love me, I get so fired up to DO. On both of my desks sit pictures of my students and my room is full of the faces of people who love me. They serve as a constant source of inspiration. I was given so much love. When I replay memories from the past months (which I do almost daily) I turn into a blubbery mess because I am so humbled and overwhelmed. People went above and beyond for me and now it's my turn. The only thing I can do is to give it back. I'm trying to turn your love into ways to empower and celebrate others. I want to make y'all proud. Love you guys so much!!