Bravery has had many faces for me. When I was younger it had the face of fearlessness. No matter what you threw at me, I would go for it and give it everything I had. Be it dancing, skiing, making lo-fi horror movies; I never hesitated and always went full throttle. And then everything changed. At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, and I shut down.
As a freshman in high school, I sat unknowingly in biology class as the teacher randomly passed out mid-term paper themes. She handed me Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the very disease that I would be diagnosed with no more than three months later. On the outside, many would believe that I was incredibly brave, battling cancer as a young teenager. I always found a way to smile through everything and never stopped going to school or dancing. I was tenacious, because I thought that’s what everyone expected of me.
For the next 15 years, bravery became something completely different. It meant keeping my fears inside, hiding my true feelings and pretending everything was OK to protect others from being uncomfortable. I told myself I could do it all on my own when in fact I was falling apart. I have heard cancer can improve your understanding of what is important in life, and provide perspective on how to live life to the fullest. That’s not what happened for me. I was confused, scared and I didn’t know who to talk to or where to start. I felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t walk away with this amazing clarity.
I tried to bury the experience, but it never really went away. I became a shell of myself who played it safe. I hesitated to take risks. I became very careful of how hard I pushed my body because I was afraid I might actually hurt myself after learning the limits of life firsthand. I played small. I hid myself from myself, and from the world.
In 2014, I realised I was tired of hiding. I decided it was finally time to stop. I shaved my head and raised over $8,000 for pediatric cancer research; I sold almost everything I owned to move to Vancouver, British Columbia to pursue an exciting career opportunity where I knew no one; I joined the Ride to Conquer Cancer® benefiting BC Cancer Foundation and cycled 250 km from Vancouver to Seattle through 80+ km/h winds.
And I didn’t stop there. I then signed up for the RBC GranFondo two weeks later and cycled from Vancouver to Whistler to experience the incredible Sea to Sky Highway. My next big goal? Complete my first IRONMAN by 2018!
I found my true face of bravery by finally being unapologetically, 100% me, no matter what. There wasn’t just one thing that got me here. I tried therapy, read books by other survivors, attended support groups, kept a journal, learned yoga and choreographed dark dance pieces. My journey took as long as my journey took, and I am still on it. It has never been about finding an answer or solution or book that already existed, it was about finding me again and loving all that I am.
Today, bravery is knowing that it is totally normal to feel fear and limitations. It is OK to ask for help. Bravery is letting people in, and letting others be themselves, wherever they are on their own journey. Bravery is about trying and having the resilience to keep going, even when you don’t get as far as you want to the first time around, or even the 10th time. Bravery is feeling all of it. It’s about accepting and loving yourself, no matter where life happens to take you.
Do all of that, and you are truly brave.
Written by Rachel Bellotti
Rachel Bellotti is a free spirit, with a hawk, living it up in Vancouver BC. She is a cycling machine, dancer and a wizard when it comes to building brands. Rachel is also a paediatric cancer survivor committed to telling her story and inspiring others along the way.