A year ago today I lost something.
This day last year I went to sleep around 8 a.m., and for seven hours, two brilliant doctors carefully removed both of my diseased breasts and started phase one of a staged breast reconstruction.
Being diagnosed with cancer for the second time was one thing, but the suspense leading up to the double mastectomy I needed to have was brutal. I was terrified, heartbroken and defeated… and I was mad. Mad that cancer, a demon that first reared its ugly head when I was 16 and seems to have never left, was once again taking something from me… and I couldn’t do anything about it.
But mostly, I was sad… this time was different.
In the past, I’d always been tougher than cancer. I’d always refused to let cancer get the better of me, and maybe that’s because I didn’t think cancer would actually come back. But it did come back… and this time, cancer wasn’t taking hair that would grow back… this time cancer was taking something permanently.
I tried to be positive, but I worried about how I would look and prepared for the worst. I envisioned myself deformed and disfigured. I wondered if it would be obvious to people who looked at me.
Newly single at 33, I literally mourned the loss of my sexuality… I wondered if any man would ever want to be with a woman like me… and, would I ever want to be intimate with someone, knowing my body would feel foreign, or like nothing at all… I was doubtful. I was devastated.
I feared I was losing my femininity, forever.
The irony is, a year ago today, I had no idea how much I would gain from losing my breasts.
We live in a society that makes it extraordinarily difficult for women to feel confident in their own skin. We strive for a vision of perfection. We compare ourselves to models and set unrealistic expectations. We self-shame. And frankly, we don’t need something like a double mastectomy fucking things up further for us.
When I was younger, I loved my body. I was tall, thin and had curves in all the right places. Once the long-term effects of the chemo and radiation I’d had as a teenager started to kick in, around college, I stopped loving my body.
Looking back, I’m sure I could have done more to look and feel better. Looking back, I’m sure cancer wasn’t the reason for every change my body was experiencing, but I blamed cancer anyway. I felt like my body was failing me, and I had every reason to believe that… each time I visited one of my many doctors, it became apparent… parts of my body were, in fact, failing me.
While in college, tons of boys asked me, point blank, if I’d had breast implants. I had big boobs on a tall, thin body, but I also have two big scars above each breast… one from a biopsy I had as a teenager to diagnose my Hodgkin’s Disease, and one from where my mediport was placed so I could receive three cycles of chemo. These fucking boys would ask, “What’s with those big scars, are those from your implants?”
This is a totally absurd question and my reaction was always pretty amazing… I loved making those stupid boys feel like complete assholes, not just for suspecting such a thing, but for actually having the balls to ask something so ridiculous. But let’s be clear… being a badass witty bitch didn’t make me love my body any more. It made me feel worse… you could clearly see the cancer all over me, and each time someone asked about my scars, I felt compelled to have to explain myself, to defend myself.
More years passed and my thyroid started failing from the radiation I’d had. With its steady decline, weight piled onto my thin frame much more easily than it ever had. My body image worsened. Eventually my endocrinologist found pre-cancerous cells on my thyroid and said it needed to come out. You’d think I’d have been scared about another brush with cancer… I wasn’t. Not for a second… I was worried about the enormous scar the surgery would leave across my neck, which it did… it looked like someone tried to cut my head off. I gained ten pounds in one month after that surgery and continued to steadily gain up through last year.
The hatred I had for my body seeped into my relationships with men who’d pledged to love me forever, who said they’d be with me no matter what… to me, their words meant shit. Once the exciting spontaneity of the relationship’s honeymoon phase was over, when intimacy naturally starts to dwindle, I blamed myself. I felt overweight, undesirable and projected my feelings on them, insisting that any fight we’d had, or any lack of intimacy ultimately meant that they felt the same about me… that I was ugly and definitely not worth marrying.
So by this time last year, fresh off the ending of a love that I once trusted and believed in, knowing the torture my body was about to endure, preparing for the permanent physical damage, I almost gave up on myself.
And then I remembered who the fuck I am…
I remembered I’ve always been so much more than what you see on the surface.
I’m a woman with brains as big as the fucking pyramids.
I’m a woman who’s already been to hell and instead of suffering there, I beat down the devil and used the embers he scorched me with to make frozen margaritas.
I have climbed corporate ladders and shattered glass ceilings with my talent.
I have beasted through life like a fucking savage.
And I’m not alone… I have a family that people would kill to be part of.
I have parents who have never let me down, who never let me smell their fear, all of the years they’ve watched their youngest and only daughter battle the odds… parents who would walk through miles of fire barefoot for my sake, without hesitation.
I have an intuition that has always quietly whispered the answers to all of life’s problems, and this time it was reminding me, I’m not someone who gives up.
I am a woman with a rare power to heal herself and others with her light… I’d done it once, and I would do it again.
I am a woman who has always taken the shittiest situations and turned them into something magical… and that’s exactly why I started this blog.
Every time I felt hopeless about what was on the outside, I fed my insides by sharing the deepest parts of my soul and allowing the love to flood back in.
During my four months of recovery, as bad as I felt, I got myself up, I got myself dressed. I put on make-up. I did my hair. I went outside and basked in the sun and breathed in the fresh air.
I met with spiritual healers who told me stories of the warrior I’ve been throughout all of my lives, who channeled my angels and guides to cleanse my spirit and who saw my bright future, promising me, my work here on Earth is far from done and it’s going to be brilliant.
I began to look forward to my new beginning, with nervous anticipation.
When I had my exchange surgery in December, I was so excited to swap my expanders for implants. When the surgery was done, I absolutely despised the way my new body looked. It was heartbreaking… all of my fears were coming true.
My new breasts were not the right shape, they were not the right size, they didn’t feel real and they made my chest look manly. The people closest to me, who tried desperately to convince me I was wrong, couldn’t. They know I can smell bullshit from a mile away, they know I don’t sugarcoat anything and they knew I was right… so they shared my disappointment and cried right along with me… They knew this wasn’t fair.
So I made up my mind that I’d never be happy with the broken body God had given me. I decided to stop obsessing over how I looked, over things I didn’t think I could change, and instead nurtured how I felt inside.
I surrounded myself with beautiful things that make me happy. I got more sleep. I spent as much time as I could outside in nature. I focused more on pleasing myself instead of trying to please everyone else. I started eating cleaner foods so I’d have more energy. I exercised to build physical strength and endurance, not for my appearance, but to prove to myself that my broken body could heal and conquer major physical challenges.
I started treating my body the way this beautiful vessel should be treated, even if I didn’t feel beautiful.
Completely intimidated by the idea of dating again for the first time in five years, I did it afraid, knowing I’d have to eventually explain the scars all over my body to someone new, that I’d have to get used to the strangeness of not being able to actually feel someone touching my numb body… knowing that when I did decide to be intimate with someone, it would be an endless reminder that I’d lost something… worried that I’d just fall back into my old habits of self-loathing and placing blame.
And then, as usual, I surprised myself.
The beauty and strength I felt inside blossomed outward. I had more energy, creativity and peace. Weight I’ve struggled to lose my whole life started falling off. The shapes and curves I thought were a thing of the past started to return. My new breasts changed drastically, for the better, finally comfortable in their new home on my chest. I embraced that my new and old scars will show and people will ask about them (and they have), and I don’t give a shit… I have a badass story to tell.
After nearly two decades, I finally fell back in love with me.
Dating surprised me too. Dating is different than I remember, but so am I. I don’t have a ticking clock, I’m not desperately searching for my soulmate, I’m not worried about what I look like and I’m focused on being selective… I get to weed out people who don’t meet my standards and allow the universe to draw me to people who fan my flames. I’m turning heads, I’m forging new friendships and I’m leaving a lasting imprint, not just with how I look, but how I am.
I did not lose my sexuality, or my femininity, like I thought I would… my body may feel different, but it does not feel foreign. It turns out, intimacy is not a devastating reminder of what I lost, but a testament to what I’ve gained.
And so the tough girl who fought and beat cancer twice wasn’t always so tough. She doubted herself. She let fear control her for a while. She didn’t think she was good enough. She forgot that it matters more what’s on the inside than on the outside. And maybe that’s why the universe slowly took parts of her body from her… to remind her that it doesn’t fucking matter. Our souls are here to learn how to love and be loved… our bodies are just along for the ride.
I may have lost a lot to cancer in my life, but I’ve gained so much more in the fallout. I found the person I was supposed to be all along… and now, she’s free.
And I have cancer to thank for that.