Sunday, December 29, 2013

The "Other" Side Effects of Breast Cancer. A blog for ALL women!

Breast Cancer is a true gift. It gives us many things:


Just to name a few. And if ever there was a time when a woman needed her self-esteem to help her through this B-Busting time, it would be now. However, many of us are already "in the hole" with our low self-esteem, so once we get a disease that robs us of our feminine qualities, we're in trouble. We put ourselves down even more. We feel ugly, weird, different. We are afraid to go out in public. We hate being stared at and we dread others' harsh or stupid commentary on our looks. It doesn't happen often, but enough to make us fidgety and on alert.

So, after dealing with all of the harsh side effects of treatment, one would hope a woman would say to herself,  "I've been through so much. This really isn't the time to dwell on my appearance and feel bad about myself." One would hope that this woman is being gentle and kind to herself. However, quite the opposite happens. 

Instead of Self-Loving, she turns to Self-Loathing. 

"I'm so fat"
"I hate the way I look bald, or the way I look in a wig"
"I hate my man chest"
"My boobs are lopsided"
"I'm too skinny!"

The list of flaws is endless. She will even invent some that don't exist. And it slowly erodes at her soul as she continues sending her subconscious these horribly negative messages. 

And if someone were to compliment her, she would just scoff at it and act like a defense attorney. "No, I do not have pretty eyes and teeth. See, look at that space right there." She will try her best to prove you all wrong, even though she has the face of a super model. She just doesn't see her beauty. 

So ladies. I'm here to try to stop the madness. Even if you do not have breast cancer, chances are good you are unhappy with at least one thing about yourself. When did our self-worth become so dependent on our looks?  Men do not waste this kind of time and energy looking in the mirror, frowning, crying, fixing, straightening, tweeking, and twitching about it all. 

But we do! And it spirals out of control. We are just never satisfied. And I have to say, it makes me sad. And it makes me mad. 

I am admittedly a vain person. I guess everyone has some vanity, to a degree. After going through this last year and so many physical reinventions; long hair, pixie hair, bald head, mastectomy, Puff Mommy body, I have always tried to look nice through it all because, well, I'm vain. My hair is growing back  like a Chia Pet in progress. There's no easy way to grow out a bald head so you just have to let it do its thing, and put on some big ass earrings to detract from the hair!  Normally, if I am seeing someone for the first time in a while, I would make comments about my hair, like "Oh, it's growing and I can't do much with it", almost in an apologetic way. WTF!? Why do I have to apologize or feel shame about the way I look? What if I did chose this gruesome hairdo? Who gives a good shit, as my mother would say. Sporting a Chia head certainly gives you a thicker skin, or it can break you. I chose to be tough.

I reached an impass last week.  The day after Christmas I did something VERY brave. I stepped on the scale. I knew it wasn't going to be pretty but I did anyway. As soon as I stepped on, these words rolled off my tongue like I had been possessed by the ghost of Stuart Smalley:

"I love you no matter what"

And the number on the scale was quite frightening and an all time high for me. I should have been crying but instead, I just shrugged my shoulders, silently told myself, "It's ok",  and stepped off. And I moved on. I then undressed to take a shower, also another adventure in sight seeing. Again, I would usually glance quickly then look away. But that day I said:

"I love you no matter what"

And you know, I think I have found my mantra, my self-affirmation, or whatever it is I need to get me through my middle age and beyond. As much as I will try to take care of my body, there will be jiggling, there will be rolls, there will be wrinkles on my face. I will never be an airbrushed version of myself, nor do I want to be.  However, I can tell you that I will have the perkiest boobs in the nursing home when this is all said and done. 

To all my sisters, both near and far, with or without breast cancer:  I pray that you all accept yourselves "As Is", no matter what your imagined flaws are.  In the end, looks and beauty mean absolutely nothing. I can also say that I have never been happier. I am more at ease with myself and I'm not "wasting time" dwelling on what I should or could look like. Again, it is what it is. It doesn't mean I am surrendering to a lifetime of obesity. It just means that in this moment, I am accepting myself, no matter what. 

So, the B-Busting gifts that cancer brings? I'd say that is one of them. Learning to love myself, no matter what. If you dare, hang this sign up on your bathroom mirror. Say it out loud every time those negative thoughts start creeping in. It can set the entire tone for the day. And just before bed, make sure you say it again a few times as you drift off. It will bring much needed peace to your sleep. You might actually start believing it and then you can spend your precious time on this earth on the things that truly matter. 


Saturday, December 7, 2013

The New Normal

Recently I wrote about the "Now What?" after treatment and surgeries are over. I expected myself to be back to normal. What was I thinking? And what is normal anyway? I haven't written in over a month because I have really not been myself. Adjusting to Tamoxifen, instant menopause, lack of sleep, Christmas, and not being able to form sentences out loud or on computer have impaired my blogging abilities!

If the new normal means wearing granny panties, sporting a Max Headroom haircut, farting and snoring more than Frank Barone, weighing more than my husband (almost), acting like a morose teenager, and grunting every time I arise from a seated position, then yes, I am completely normal. 

Many of us go back to our routines, at least to some degree. We are at the grocery store, the gym (if we are lucky), our kids' activities, in many cases our jobs, family gatherings, housework, etc.  We look ok, for the most part. We put our makeup on every day so that we don't look sick or tired and we tend to make an extra effort than before to look presentable. The world sees us as highly or moderately functioning beings of society. We appear, on most accounts, OK. 

I'll give you a little hint though. We're not all OK.

We are bordering on wanting people to ask us how we are to getting aggravated if they do ask us how we are, because we just don't know how to answer honestly. It's a slippery slope and we are a moody bunch, sometimes. I personally try to be honest and tell the truth, without TMI and drama spilling out. We may feel awkward in social settings and making small talk can be very daunting.

I realized the New Normal is anything but and most of us hate the expression. It's kind of a slap in the face to some and they don't want to accept that things are never going to be the same. They don't want a New Normal. They want their Old Normal. It's not easy to deal with but as one wise sister always points out, "It is what it is". (It's funny how I've always hated that expression but it has never been more relevant to my life than it is now and I use it more and more!) So coming to accept the baggage that comes with breast cancer, even long after treatment is over is a process. I've come to accept many things "as is" and try not to put so much pressure on myself to be "back to normal". This only makes things harder, trust me.

I try to mindread those who have not travelled this road. I wonder if some look at cancer as a single event that simply occurred and now it's over. It's like when you have a party in your house. People come over, make a mess, and then leave. It's your job to get out the dust pan and toss all the crumbs into the trash. Then you carry on with daily life.

Well, cancer is certainly no party and the crumbs that are left behind keep showing up in places you didn't expect them to. As hard as you try to scoop them up, they keep sticking to the floor, or in the corners of your mind, haunting you when you least expect it. 

I've tried telling myself, "You need to put this entire experience behind you. You need to move forward". My mantra since my diagnosis was "Keep moving forward, don't look back." But this is not easy, especially since it's constantly in front of me.  If I had ass cancer, sure, it'd be easy to put it behind me! At times, I have completely avoided the bathroom mirror or I let it fog up so much that I couldn't see myself. And that was fine with me!

But now, things are changing and I no longer hide from myself. One of my fellow pink sisters named Natalie really expresses it best here and I'd like to credit her with helping me be able to look at myself with pride every day:

"When I look at my scars and my changed chest, now I feel pride and happiness. I am proud of all that I endured and I'm happy to be alive. Scars don't form on the dead....only the living. So now I've learned to look at them in a completely different way."

Well said, Natalie! You are helping me and so many other women by sharing this perspective. My hope is that all women who have been scarred by breast cancer will be able to see themselves as beautiful and strong survivors who have overcome and prevailed. You are all warriors and you are stronger than you think!