This past year has really changed my perspective on a variety of aspects of my life, one being the definition of beauty. I don't feel beautiful anymore and cancer has a lot to do with that.
When I think of a beautiful woman, I picture Beyoncé or Scarlett Johansson or my mom and all of these women have beautiful curves, the hair that women dream of, working-women-parts and two breasts. I on the other hand don't possess such beauty. I have so much extra weight on me, my curves have turned into blobs. I have tried to lose weight but between the exhaustion of post-treatment and now going back to work, the weight-gain side effects of Tamoxifen, and being predisposed to being overweight because of PCOS, it is becoming inevitable that I will be overweight forever. My hair is, well, I have hair... but I think what makes it hard is that my short hair is a constant reminder that I had cancer and chemo and I don't have a choice in my hairstyle right now - cancer has given me THIS hairstyle. The working women's parts are to be determined and we won't know until I try to have a baby in 4.5 years - I'll keep you posted. And finally, only having one breast, in a world where we are bombarded with sex, sex, sex, and breasts, breasts, breasts, and cleavage, cleavage, cleavage, I have one breast. My breast(s) aren't even sexual to me anymore, Lefty looks like a breast but doesn't feel like one (I lost all sensation after I had a reduction to try and even them out) and Righty is just a lump (currently with an expander). I feel like I have lost my sex appeal; I feel like I've lost my womanhood.
I have recently tried to focus on my 'insides' and all that I have to offer that you can't see. I am proud of myself for who I have become and I know I have a lot of great traits but when I'm walking down the street, or going to a job interview, or meeting a friend's new boyfriend, in the back of my mind I always wonder 'Can he tell that my right breast is currently a face cloth stuffed into my mastectomy bra to even me out?' and 'I wonder if he's seen pictures of me with long hair - I looked prettier with long hair' and 'I used to weigh a lot less - don't judge me at the weight I'm at now.'
It's easy for me to recognize my good characteristics but it would be nice to be told I'm pretty... and to believe it. I am very lucky to have people all around me (including family, friends and the Amazing Keith) who tell me how beautiful I am, but I have gotten to a place where I don't believe them because I don't feel very womanly anymore. What's that saying, 'you can't expect someone else to love you if you don't love yourself'? I think this kind of falls under that category.
There is so much support for our physical needs when we are cancer patients, your oncologist, your nurses, your pharmacist and your drugs are all trying to balance the cancer-killing drugs with the anti-nausea, anti-anxiety drugs but I have to say, especially near the middle of treatment, I started wondering 'which of these 13 lettered prescriptions will cure my heartache over having cancer?' and 'Is it this little white pill that will help grow my breast back? No, no, wait, it's to take care of my fear of recurrence.' My point is, there is not enough support for the psychological side of cancer. How am I supposed to deal with cancer's impact on my self-image? How do I face the fact that the odds of me having cancer again, is quite likely? How do I deal with the fact that I think about my funeral - probably more than I should?
I know, deep in my heart, that it is what's on the inside that counts. I know that breasts, and hair, and being 'skinny' shouldn't be my priority and most of the time they're not but every now and again I get pretty pissed off that cancer robbed me of all of it.
On the other hand...
I met someone at work today who, after finding out that I had cancer, shared that his dad was currently in chemo. He started asking questions about my cancer and I told him about surgery and treatment to which he replied 'Oh good, you had surgery'. I thought 'Oh ya, it was great, I love not having a breast. What a weird thing to say.' He then told me about his father who had esophagageal cancer and they couldn't operate unless they collapsed a lung, broke his chest cavity and then removed part of his esophagus, all with having a 10% chance of success. So instead, he stays in chemo, so that he can eat and so he can stay 'comfortable'. He's damn right that I was lucky I had surgery. I get so angry with myself sometimes for feeling sorry for myself for not having a breast when some people are living with cancer and they would do anything to hear 'We've found a way to remove your cancer. We're going to operate tomorrow.'