Emily, who blogs at Puddleducklane, is another member of my very special online cancer support group. She is a wife and mother of two young boys, who also writes beautifully and takes the most amazing photos. I’m so pleased and honoured that she wrote this post especially to share here.
When Julie first asked me to do a guest post for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought sure, why not, I’d love to. Then I got to thinking about a meaningful topic and went entirely blank. I tend to go blank a lot these days. Before cancer I blamed baby brain for any occasional forgetfulness but I prided myself on being uber organised. These days, thanks to a healthy dose of chemo brain……………I’m sorry, what was the question again?
I realised (eventually) that I wanted to write about embracing the body I’ve got. We all battle with self-image at different stages of our lives and Cancer creates a huge shift in self perception. I know it did for me.
Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36, I was in a pretty comfortable place within myself. I certainly didn’t lose sleep because I didn’t resemble a Victoria’s Secret Angel. My husband loved my curves just as they were. There were times when I wished I wasn’t so vertically challenged, but generally, I was happy with my health and didn’t subscribe to the narrow definition of beauty created by magazines and Hollywood heavyweight.
I thought my body was pretty freaking amazing for creating, carrying, birthing and breastfeeding two little human beings. I admired the truly stunning metamorphosis that my body went through during pregnancy.
I loved my boobs.
I loved them pre-pregnancy when they were perfectly pert. I loved them when they were gorgeously full with breast milk and I even loved them when they’d deflated and downsized once the milk bar officially closed.
I deemed them beautiful, productive and pleasurable.
For almost two years now, my body has undergone another huge metamorphosis and I have had to learn how to embrace the new me that has evolved out of breast cancer. It’s been an immense learning curve.
Losing my right breast and all my hair within the first 6 weeks of diagnosis was somewhat soul-destroying.
It felt like my femininity was being sliced, poisoned and burnt away with a torrent of surgery, chemo and radiation. My vanity took a big hit and that hurt but it also redefined how I saw myself. In the early days of chemo I felt a sense of shame being bald. I kept telling myself that it was just hair, it would grow back but despite the pep talks I still felt exposed and vulnerable to the stares of others.
My perspective took a shift during my time stuck in the Oncology ward at Canberra Hospital. I was the only one in my room who wasn’t terminal. I witnessed women planning funerals with best friends, families saying goodbye for the last time and doctors explaining what death would be like. I listened to the MET teams working frantically to stabilise heart rates, temps and resps in the lonely hours before dawn. It was agonising and frightening. Losing a breast and my hair didn’t seem like such a terrible thing after that. Being alive. Embracing the body I had right there, right then because I was alive became a priority. It was LIVING that was beautiful.
I dared to go out in public without my headscarf, I grew bold with my personal style and shook off the pity stares and discomfort of others who saw my bare head.
I was exhausted and depressed. I realised that at some point in time I’d shifted from embracing my body to resenting it. I’d stopped caring about my health and lost the motivation to exercise and eat well. Somewhere in there I’d lost my identity. I wasn’t my pre-cancer self, I wasn’t a cancer patient anymore and I still had three years to go before clicking over into remission.
I’m finally allowing myself to properly grieve my loss and acknowledge the trauma that my body has endured because of cancer. I’ve started counselling to help me process what I’ve been through and I’m coming to terms with my post treatment self. I’m establishing my new identity for the ‘me’ that I am now, in this moment.
I’m learning to love myself all over again, breast cancer battle scars and all.
Just beautiful Em. There is so much that cancer takes away from us that we then have to reclaim in our new life.
Thank you for sharing this – I’ve a different story (Hodgkin’s, not breast cancer), but so much of what you’ve written struck a chord with me. First cancer, then treatment, made me quite overweight, and I have a massive scar on my neck and two on my upper breast, all visible in normal clothes, and of course, just growing back my hair. I feel so self conscious and unloving of my poor battered body!! But I’m feeling a lot more inspired to start taking better care of this body, which after all got me through this awful time in shining colours really. Thank you.
Oh Kate, I’m so bloody sorry you’ve been on this horrible cancer rollercoaster too. Much love to you as you work through finding your ‘normal’ again.