Meet Isabella Toth
My encounter with cancer ceased to be a negative experience as soon as I shifted my perspective. Armed with humor and hopefulness, I refashioned the hardships my illness bestowed upon me into tools that shared an optimistic outlook with others.
Unbeknownst to many, there is such a thing as the perfect bucket hat. Selecting such a hat requires careful consideration of several variables, including bucket-to brim ratio, quality of material, and above all, the number of laughs garnered by the exterior pattern. As a self-proclaimed bucket hat connoisseur whose credentials include a collection of over twenty specimens, I have perfected the art of bucket hat wearing, while unexpectedly, becoming bald as a teenage girl.
Towards the conclusion of my junior year, frequent chest pains led to my diagnosis of stage II Hodgkin lymphoma. Almost instantly, rigorous chemotherapy treatments began, and the slew of seemingly countless side effects set in: nausea, mouth sores, numbness, and most notably hair loss. However vain, my hair had been my main source of pride before my diagnosis, and rightfully so. Precious, golden locks that cascaded behind me, ending in soft curls near the small of my back. As a child, I would beam with pride when my mother ran a comb through my tangled mane, telling me it looked like “the sun itself’ had been woven into each strand.
Growing up, I never dyed or cut my hair, as I was afraid to taint its honeyed beauty. For so long my hair had been my defining feature, and when it began to fall out, I felt like I had lost a piece of myself.
It began to fall slowly at first, then all at once. Knotted tufts of my once beautiful mane laid lifeless in my hands. Once the last strands had fallen and my head was completely barren, I almost didn’t recognize my reflection in the mirror. I was mortified by the gleaming sheen of my scalp under the cold bathroom lighting. Desperate to cure my hairlessness, I searched for various head coverings. Between the wigs, bonnets, and scarves, one solution seemed clear: the bucket hat.
I loved how fantastically unstylish they were, s if they belonged to a middle-aged father on a fishing trip. I found these hats so humorous, that I couldn’t resist purchasing more and more. I soon developed my own collection, inducting only hats with the loudest, most absurd patterns I could find. Hats decorated with bananas, cow prints, and even patterns of cartoon geese became an everyday addition to my personage. Whenever I wore my bucket hats, complete strangers in the street would laugh and compliment them. The nurses and fellow patients at the hospital would smile at the ridiculous patterns resting on my head. When I saw delight illuminate peoples’ faces as their eyes moved up to the bucket with a brim, I forgot about my disease, the nausea, the pain, even if for a brief moment. I knew I had found a new sense of self. My bucket hats were a reflection of my buoyant, extroverted personality. I didn’t need hair to be the person I always was, and my collection was a unique way of sharing this with everyone around me.
Instead of seeing a bald head and grieving for a young person with cancer, people saw a cheerful bucket hat that made them smile. For me, this felt extraordinary: having the power to turn something unfortunate, namely a hairless scalp and subsequently a reminder of my disease, into something that brought joy not only to myself but to others as well.
My encounter with cancer ceased to be a negative experience as soon as I shifted my perspective. Armed with humor and hopefulness, I refashioned the hardships my illness bestowed upon me into tools that shared an optimistic outlook with others. This viewpoint also provided me with academic direction, sparking my desire to make a meaningful difference in other cancer patients’ lives by pursuing studies in biomedical engineering. This in turn fostered my ability to endure, adapt, and cultivate meaningful connections within myself, and with the world around me. In doing so, I have come to grasp the true value of optimism, knowing that any challenge can be overcome with a positive attitude and the right bucket hat.