Learning to Love the (Scarred) Skin I'm In
Today, I just need to vent. I am so sick and tired of looking in the mirror and seeing a completely different person than the one who started this journey. I used to have long hair - now it's short. I'm overweight and uncomfortable. I hate wearing my "foobs," but if I don't wear them, I look like an old man with a beer belly.
Those words aren't mine, but they could have been. They were a post in my online support group. A post that received dozens of comments (a few of them are below), most of which began with "I could have written this myself..."
Most days I don't even feel like the same person. I don't really think I'll ever get that girl back again.
I'm not the same person when I look in the mirror and that's really hard.
I wasn't seeing ME in the mirror. Adding in the lost breast, the weight gain, etc. it was a hard adjustment.
Feeling the same way. Uncomfortable with everything about me now. I even avoid my husband bc i feel so yucky.
Omgosh I could of wrote this myself word for word. Last week I was at my Oncologist office....there was a picture of me from my first appointment...I started crying.
I miss the thin, energetic (not sweating) person I used to be. I miss my hair. I feel like a failure to my family. Even the M&Ms are not cheering me up today.
This summer, in my mirror is a bald, no eyebrows or lashes, an extra 20lbs, missing boob and radiation damaged skin me...I wonder what the hell happened to me???
The words below are mine...written a year and a half ago...to a small group of close friends, about my wardrobe. I was trying to anticipate the kaleidoscope of emotions that would come after surgery. I was grasping for control of something, anything....
Emotionally I am really struggling with what my body is going to look like after my mastectomy. Especially my waist (or lack of). I've gained a little weight with treatment...So back to my closet. I am in Moses Lake for 2 weeks, and feeling pretty energetic and healthy. Do I ruthlessly purge now? Or wait and see if I like how things fit without boobs? If I don't wear it now, what are the chances I'll fall back in love with it when I look like a bald dude?
A bald dude.
My relationship with my body after my cancer diagnosis and treatment can only be described as....complicated.
There was the whole trying to kill me thing. A friend of mine described her diagnosis with IBC like this...I assumed cancer would come on slowly, in my old age, and most importantly, detectable. Not like an ambush.
Some days I feel like a warrior. I made it through chemotherapy, a modified radical double mastectomy, and twice daily radiation.
But there are days, even stretches of days, where I tell Jason I feel like a 'C version' of myself. I lack the strength and stamina to pursue some of my old hobbies, the sink overflows with dishes, and London cries because her favorite socks (okay, all the socks) are in the laundry.
And yes, in the mirror is a body I struggle to recognize. Scarred, damaged skin, flat chested, a heavy belly (thank you, menopause), and short hair.
A lesson I've carried with me from my retail days is control what you can control.
Will the cancer come back? Probably. Someday.
There will be days I am out of energy by afternoon. There will be days I wake up with none.
But here are the things I've learned to control:
I attended a Look Good Feel Better seminar through my local American Cancer Society. They offered make-up and styling tips (and samples!) for women in chemotherapy. (lookgoodfeelbetter.org)
I've found a fabulous hair stylist who gives me a sassy pixie cut. I love my short hair. It's quick, it's manageable. It's cute. It's fearless.
I've started yoga classes, which give me additional strength and energy.
I'm eating better...I've lost ten pounds so far. And while I've noticed the belly will be the last to go (menopause, you sneaky bastard!), overall I feel better about my body.
And finally, the clothes.
I spent five years fitting bras and prosthesis forms at Nordstrom for women after their mastectomy or lumpectomy. I assumed I would be in a rush to acquire my own, to blend in again. After all those years of selling pretty lingerie, I thought I'd miss wearing a bra. What?! Not wearing a bra is the second best fringe benefit of my cancer. (The first is not shaving my armpits. "Laser hair removal" was an unexpected side effect of radiation.)
I'm learning which brands and silhouette's of clothing compliment my flat chest. And which ones disguise it. I'm exploring styles that feel flattering and feminine, in a world where most plus-size garments have extra space to accommodate full breasts. I've had a couple friends with access to great clothes (and an even better eye!) help with this. Which is awesome, because my Stay-at-Home-Cancer-Warrior-Mom's budget doesn't really allow me to buy all new clothes.
They say knowledge is power.
If I could give my breast cancer sisters any gift (besides a cure), I would empower them to feel beautiful again. Which is why I decided to write this series of posts.
I'm not a model (duh!). I'm not a professional stylist. And these aren't sponsored posts... I'm not that fancy!
If I could, I'd simply have you all over. You'd wear your favorite leggings, pour a glass of wine, and we'd go through my closet. We'd talk about what works and what doesn't. Girlfriend to girlfriend. Because maybe something that works for me will work for you, too. And hopefully tomorrow, you'd feel a little more beautiful. Less afraid.
Because we all deserve to feel as though we have wings.