My Story: To ‘Etch A Sketch’ or Not

In her first of a series of posts for TakePart, cancer survivor Ela Cabral recalls how she never learned to appreciate her eyebrows—until they were gone.

(Photo: Getty Images)

I never appreciated my eyebrows until I didn’t have any. I lost them to chemo.

My heritage is Hispanic, and while many Latinas are born with beautifully arched eyebrows, others are born with uni-brows. I was one of the lucky ones. I had eyebrows that made my parents proud. My ego was stroked whenever I received compliments from strangers on the shape and fullness of my eyebrows. It became my signature mark, but as of recent months, my embarrassment.

Although I expected the loss of my hair, I did not expect the eyebrows or eyelashes to follow suit. I am a two-time cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with myleloprolivertaive blood disorder (leukemia) in 2005 and ovarian cancer in February 2012. The first time I did not lose any facial hair, only my mane. This is why it not only surprised me but became an embarrassment because of the stares that came from strangers. No more compliments, only uneasy stares.   

RELATED: Breast Cancer: Confronting Your Reflection After Hair Loss

At first I did not know how to handle the disconcerting stares. I was able to hide my bald head with scarves, hats, and wigs, but did not know how to hide the lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. I invested in different shades of eyebrow pencils, eyeliners, eyeliner smudge pots and even bought a plastic eyebrow template from Avon to outline and fill in fake eyebrows, similar to an “Etch A Sketch,” the childhood toy where one can magically become a talented artist. I only wanted to draw the illusion of eyebrows and eyelashes.

With practice and a steady hand I became good at the illusion and eventually felt comfortable enough to go out in public without sunglasses. 

Until the day I saw my own reflection. 

One hot summer day, after a full day of errands, I climbed into my car ready to head home. I peered into the car’s rear view mirror only to see a bald raccoon staring back at me. I did not realize the day’s perspiration and my incessant habit of rubbing my eyes resulted in a makeup disaster. I had unknowingly smudged eye makeup in and around my eyes. I laughed hysterically. Tears ran down my cheeks and transformed me into an Alice Cooper wannabe. 

It was then I asked myself, what did I need to prove with the makeup? Who did I need to impress? I had no hair, no eyelashes, no eyebrows; cancer took these away from me. But would cancer take away my true identity?  My true heritage? 

The real question was: Would I allow it to? I realized that the stares and my embarrassment were temporary but my ability to tap into my personal uniqueness was mine alone.                   

The eyebrows and eyelashes are growing back. Their shortened loss a loving reminder of how cancer can enter my body, but it is my body and mind that dictates who I am.

More on cancer:

A Boy's Little Monsters Help Fight Cancer

Celebrities Who Fought Breast Cancer

Exercise May Lower Breast Cancer Risk


Ela Cabral is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with myeloproliferative disorder, a form of leukemia, in 2005. She received a bone marrow transplant at the City of Hope. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February 2012 and received chemotherapy treatment once again. She has recently returned to work as an educator teaching special education students in Los Angeles. She enjoys travelling, writing, laughing, and teaching cancer survivors the art of writing about their own journeys.

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