My post-surgery scar emanated a fluorescent neon sign screaming an advertisement of “I’m not normal!” While some of my courageous co-ops mustered up the nerve to ask what had happened, most avoided the elephant that was my sudden change in appearance. Instead I’d hear the musings and speculation from third parties. In fact, there was a rumor going around the younger generations at Aptos High that I had died. That was a fun Thanksgiving reunion to come home to.
Clearly alive, I’d been coveting a necklace made of shells that wrapped tightly around my neck to drape over the area home to my emotional baggage. I wasn’t embarrassed; I simply wanted to be a normal sophomore girl. I didn’t want everyone take pity on me after explaining why I looked the way I did. I didn’t want to explain myself. My change in appearance made me uncomfortable, especially when the reactions I would hear included some variation of, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” How do you respond to that? It’s just awkward for everyone involved, so I tried to avoid it.
To top off the train-track bandages that laced my neck, I had also been whittled down to looking like a heroin-addict due to my allergic reaction to pain medicine and lack of nutrition for a week. I cinched my pants to keep them from falling off my hips, but the excess cloth that became my saggy derriere was just embarrassing. Luckily my fellow 5’ 10” roommate was, and still is, healthily model thin. I borrowed her size two, small (but extra lanky) clothes for a few weeks while my body filled back out.
My hair slowly turned to long strands of straw, falling out in clumps every time I brushed or ran my fingers through it. For those who don’t know, the thyroid regulates the metabolism. Once it’s removed your body progressively begins to slow down including the functions that make your body, skin, hair, and nails lubricated. My face plumped and eyes bulged, while the rest of my body remained gaunt as I prepared for radioactive treatment. I looked outright sickly. My coach commented on my appearance in Volleyball Magazine a few months later, “Ali still showed up to practice even though she was literally turning green.”
Although I felt and looked like hell, I maintained the attitude that I’d tackle the life I was meant to lead head-on and not let this hiccup slow me down. I was ready for my next hurdle.