Diamonds – I’ve always loved them. Don’t get me wrong, but I used to be a gold girl, too. When I was a young girl, I wore my “s” chains and gold studs, eventually graduating to tiny small gold hoops and then to gold dangly chain loops. I always thought that diamonds were for the rich, models, and movie stars. As I grew into my teenage years, whenever I saw someone wearing diamonds, I automatically assumed that they had self-assurance, something I lacked as a teenager and through my early 20’s.
My diamond collection started rather abruptly and tragically. I received my first pair of diamond studs at the age of sixteen when my mother died of pancreatic cancer, my initial life altering moment. Before she died, my mother took her diamond wedding band apart and had a pair of earrings made for me, as well as for my Aunt Sylvia (who is really my cousin), and another family member. I thought I would wear them every day for the rest of my life.
I always looked at my earlobes in the mirror, a daily reminder of my mother before I headed out to school. Although they weren’t big, my diamonds resonated in my mind. They made me feel special and kind of made me smirk, because nobody else in my school in the small town where I lived was wearing diamond studs at the time. Obviously, I never would have purchased them for myself, not only because I did not have the money for diamonds at such a young age, but I also never would have purchased something so extravagant. They were too sexy and smart for a 16 year-old. Nonetheless, I got used to them very quickly.
I wore my diamonds when I got my driver’s license, to my homecoming dances, and the Senior Prom. I made sure that I left them at home when I had gym class, because I didn’t want to lose them. I also wore them for my high school graduation and felt very proud. I knew my mother’s spirit was with me when I wore my shimmering stones. Those sparkly studs sustained me throughout my four years in college.
I wore my diamond studs in my ears, oversized Benetton sweaters, leggings and high-top Reebok sneakers. The girls in the dorm wore diamonds too; however, theirs were bigger than mine. During the 80s, the bigger and brighter geometric costume jewelry earrings you wore, the more of a fashionista you became. So, I decided to get my ears pierced with a second hole, and I wore my studs as my second set of earrings, one in each ear.
I wore my diamonds whiling pledging my sorority, during all of my exams, and dates. As I finished my senior year and graduated, I continued to look at my diamonds as they reflected back at me in my mirror. While staring at the big, frizzy, platinum hair, I became rather perplexed. I definitely didn’t look like Paula Abdul, Madonna, or a runway model, but there was something about myself that was trying to surface, something that struck me for the first time. Was there actually some sort of self-introspection beyond the crazy mane of high 80s hair and the sparkly diamonds on my earlobes? I realized I had outgrown the big, chunky jewelry phase and just wanted to keep the diamonds. Would this new empowerment take control over my life? Maybe I was maturing or maybe my earlobes just couldn’t take the weight of the heavy costume earrings any more.
As I moved into adulthood as an editorial assistant in the working world of health publishing, I decided my jewelry had to match my outfits. Sure, I would wear my diamonds here and there for important meetings or conferences, but, as I jumped from job to job at several publications, pearls, chandelier earrings, and gold hoops took over my ears as I jumped from job to job at several publications.
After determining that publishing wasn’t my passion, and I needed to be personally fulfilled, I decided to go to graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in special education. I originally wanted to be an art therapist, but was talked out of it by my father and people in the field. I was advised by several art therapists to go into special education or counseling and bring my art into the classroom.
As I thought I finally found my niche in teaching children with special needs, I continued to search for jewels that suited my personality and my personal style. Was my fashion sense skewed or was I just trying to act cool and confident? My jewelry style kept changing, much the same way my jobs did during my early teaching career. Seventeen years later, after a stable job in education and an abundant collection of earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings, I began to find myself content with my professional life and began to wear my diamond earrings occasionally.
In 2004, my second life altering moment occurred. My father became seriously ill with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. The large blood vessel that supplied blood to his abdomen, pelvis, and legs became abnormally large. I jumped into the caretaker mode once again, learning the importance of bravery, living for the moment, and just making it through another day. In fact, I learned this from both of my parents. While speaking with my father’s doctors, visiting him in the hospital, making health and financial decisions daily, I wore my mother’s diamonds. Why? Maybe it was to keep her close, to me, to my father, or maybe it was a sign of things to come. There was no searching for trinkets or charms at this time. My diamonds, my mother’s diamonds, gave me confidence and courage to cope with my father’s poor health and ultimately his death.
Little did I know, nine-and-a-half weeks after my father passed away, my biggest challenge lay ahead… I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The thoughts that went through my mind after my diagnosis were visions of my mother enduring chemotherapy, loss of hair, and eventually the loss of life. Many images swept through my mind, especially one similar to a math equation: Chemotherapy + wig = thousands of dollars OR continue to find courage through diamonds + guts = reinvention.
My diamonds stayed on my ears and eventually grew into a nice small collection of diamond earrings, rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Why buy a wig, which is temporary, when I can buy diamonds; that will stay with me for the rest of my life?
Now, wearing diamonds daily is customary, like washing my face every day. When both men and women admire my jewelry they almost always say, “Your earrings and necklace are so beautiful, they look so good on you.” I always think to myself, “You have no idea of the meaning behind these babies.” And maybe wearing diamonds every day is my simple act of valor and courage, to continue my life as a strong, independent woman who is cancer-free.