I am just back from a checkup with my naturopath (the first one since starting chemo 14 weeks ago) and she was amazed at how healthy my body is. Even the issues I have had on a regular occasion (like my pancreas) tested strong and vibrant. The liver, where she expected to see struggle, is powering through. The only weak area tested – my brain. (And now I just admitted that in a public forum – oops).
I have worked continuously this last year and a half on reconnecting to my optimism, learning to focus on living in the moment (still a lot to learn on that – it’s a tough course that one), practice gratitude and stop the dark thoughts in their tracks. These last couple of weeks have definitely been more challenging for me. I am not sure if it is the cumulative effects of the chemo, the amount of time alone in my four walls (not to worry – already rectifying that now that I caught myself and have become aware), the anxiety of what happens after chemo (this has been a main focus of my life and become the consistent routine since the diagnosis on November 6, 2015 but who knew it could become “comfortable”), and watching my body change even more.
When My Mom went through chemo for breast cancer (like a champ – I learned so much from her about handling things with a steely determination, grace, and sense of humour) she said that every time she looked in the mirror when in her bathrobe she saw a little buddhist monk looking back at her. When I look in the mirror these days I see a bobblehead without the bob.
My hair is the thinnest it has been, I have about five eyelashes left on my right eye and thirteen on the left making my eyes look even puffier, 13 eyebrow strands on the right and 24 on the left (much more fun to draw eyebrows on that way). Thank goodness (because what girl wouldn’t want it) my chin whiskers and moustache grew back so I found myself pulling the body sugar out to tackle that…. I think maybe it is like the rainbow after a storm, it is the promise that the hair will all come back.
Hmmm… Perhaps I am not a bobblehead but Mrs. Potatohead instead with all of the accessories that come on and off these days.
In order to go out it has become quite time consuming, especially for a girl that was content to sometimes run out with only a sweep of mascara and touch of lips. The routine after the shower is to tone my face and scalp (to try to keep the irritation down there), use extra magic potions on the bags under my eyes (new girly-girl fuss for me), Bio-oil on my mastectomy and hysterectomy scars (which really are healing nicely, though I can definitely feel some consistent pain in the scar tissue beneath when I allow myself to think about it so I try to avoid that topic with myself), estrogen gel on my skin to deal with the hormones lost after the hysterectomy keeping hot flashes and insomnia at bay, lotion on my body for my delicate skin, the decision over which boobs to wear today (though it is still kinda nice to take that load off in the evenings and can’t wait to try golfing with nothing impeding my swing this summer – who’s in!?), the newest challenge of gluing on some fake eyelashes and what kind of hair or headpiece to wear? Then it is searching my closet for a neckline that won’t highlight my concave chest with prosthetics that fall away when I bend over or the lovely portocath (which I do love as it saves a tonne of extra strife for chemo treatments and bloodwork but is very obvious in it’s placement and rather ugly to look at). There is no point in a new wardrobe right now because my body is not done changing yet – the plans are for reconstruction in late summer.
And so how has this impacted me emotionally (and why do I feel like I am giving Susan Lucci a run for her money in the emotional dramatic ups and downs)?
It is a challenge to be comfortable in my own skin at the moment. A huge one!
A week or so ago I went to a Hoffman Closure ceremony. It is an extremely special celebration for people that have completed the Hoffman Process (a residential retreat that I participated in January of 2015 and has truly changed my life in ways I leave to another day to explain – suffice it to say I would not be in the positive head space and state of physical health I am in today had it not been for the Process, the tools it has given me, and the one on one coaching I have received since).
My bringing this up is not about product placement advertizing. To return for these closure ceremonies is a special event that gets me vibrating, it is a safe place where people are working hard to become truly authentic to their amazing selves, often recognizing that for the first time. It is a place of awareness and acceptance of who I am, just me, no other expectations. As I am not interested in being looked at like a cancer patient (and find people more comfortable with someone who “looks” healthy) I went with my weapons of choice – the fun and sassy red wig, the medical prosthetics, the makeup done just so to give the appearance of full lashes and brows…. And I became aware of the feeling that I was somehow in hiding. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I didn’t quite belong. I am having fun with the wigs and laughing along the way, but it feels like I am in costume and playing a character.
The juxtaposition of the two is exhausting – either I am in complete hiding or am completely naked and vulnerable to others witnessing my journey. Though I have been extremely open about it, it has been in my terms and I understand now that it perhaps it my own sadness, lost self-confidence, and fear that I am seeing reflected back to me when Others see me in my naked state. I have been strong, healthy and optimistic for most of this journey, but I have forgotten that it is good and natural to need to work through those other emotions that the physical body plays a role in as well. Be it the loss of “beauty” or the hormones or the chemo chemicals impacting my brain and emotions, it is important to become aware of them and feel them so that I can continue to grow forward and reclaim my life cancer free.
So I have a choice and it can be different each time. I can chose to walk out of the house sans makeup, wig and prosthetics and allow people to look at me as a cancer patient (because as much as I try to deny it and as good as I have felt going through it, I am in fact a cancer patient), or I dawn a costume in order to be looked at as a strong, vibrant and healthy woman. Either way I am the same woman underneath. Ironically I feel stronger without the attachments because it does not take nearly so much energy as I find it does to keep things looking right, ignore the low-grade headache the wigs cause or the extra bulk of the scarf, and I think I am more recognizable to people.
When you see me without the attachments and see the woman with cancer standing before you, see me as I am. I may not have the beauty that is expected with long dark full lashes, well arched brows, and a shiny head of voluminous hair, but I am a strong and healthy woman (most days) with a soul that sings, laughs, exalts and dances because I have a life so well blessed and filled with love.
And so, without the costume but much love, I wish you a day connected to the beauty within you!