Cancer Never Made Me Hate My Body, It Actually Made Me Love It More
Over coffee, I was discussing with a friend the fact that I’d never really had body image issues. Of course, there’s been the odd occasion where I complain that my boobs aren’t big enough, my torso is too short or that my leg muscles just never seem to build no matter how much I train them, but I’ve never gotten to the point where I’ve hated my body. Sure, sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t love what I see, but I have never despised it, starved myself or over exercised to change its appearance. I’ve never really compared my body to another woman’s body and I’ve never wished to look like someone else.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many women including so many of my friends. It breaks my heart to hear my friends talk about their experiences with bulimia, anorexia, body dysmorphia and self-esteem issues. Many of my friends are still recovering and find discussing the topic triggering.
It got me thinking, why have I never experienced this? I find it super hard to relate when I hear girls talk about issues with their physical appearance either being too fat, too skinny, too short or too tall. I can’t relate to when they say they cannot leave the house because they feel they are so unattractive and count every macro that goes into their mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful this has never been me, but I do feel a little un-womanly not caring about how I look.
After pondering this question for a while I realised that my body issues have never been image based because my body and I have never been enemies, we’ve grown up partners in crime. We’ve always been fighting hand in hand, together. At the age of fifteen I was diagnosed with stage two hodgkin’s lymphoma where I discovered a huge mediastinal mass was hiding out in my chest. It wasn’t sneaky at all and made itself known via a horrible cough and a golf ball sized lump above my right clavicle bone. My doctor explained to me all the physical changes that would come about because of chemotherapy such as losing my hair, no lashes or eyebrows and a ‘moon face’ from the steroid medications. From my various surgeries and procedures, I accumulated scars, needle marks and a hell of a lot of bruising. Over my next three cancer diagnosis’ I’ve also picked up more scars, my weight has fluctuated and dropped dramatically and I feel I’ve developed my fair share of wrinkles from stress (even though I’m only 23 years old!) However, it’s never made me hate my body, it’s actually made me love it more.
It’s a rare occasion that I compliment cancer. When the beast and I get to talkin’ (and trust me, we do) I tell it how much I hate it, how it’s ruined my life, how it’s changed everything, how it burdens my family, how it’s isolated me from my friends, how it’s damaged my view on the world and how much I wish it would just kindly f*** off. But today I’m talking to it in a different light, today I’m thanking cancer for creating such a beautiful relationship between myself and my body. One that may not have come about, if it never touched me with its gross little fingers.
Each time I’ve gotten cancer I’ve wondered where I have neglected my body. Did I not drink enough green juices or eat enough healthy salads and veggies each day? Did I not drink enough water or not exercise as often as I should have? Did I stress too much over the little things and forget to nurture my body through self-love practises such as meditation, yoga and baths? Did I not rest enough during my exam period at University? I constantly questioned where I had let my body down and therefore continuously worked at creating a routine where I was getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, exercising and eating enough. I never let my body go without and I feel as though I’ve become a mother figure to it. I know that for my body to thrive I must provide it with the necessary tools and treat it gently in every way that I can.
I love my body so much and am so, so proud of its resilience and tenacity. It has sustained me through four cancer diagnosis’ and continued to fight every waking moment for me to be on this Earth. My body is my life partner and my relationship with it is so important. No one and no thing will ever love me more than my body. From the moment I was born I have lived in this vessel and it will go to its grave with me, fighting for life. Have you ever thought about how beautiful and significant that is?! With each breath of air and each beat of my heart it wills me to go on, it fights for me and it stands up to cancer saying, “not today, sis.”
It doesn’t matter to me that a huge chunk of flesh is noticeable missing from my neck because it reminds me of the surgery I endured, removing cancer. It doesn’t matter that I have three scars on my neck, a scar under my boob and a scar on my lower back from my various procedures because it is physical proof of what I have pushed through. It doesn’t matter that one of my ribs sticks out, because these ribs house my organs and protect my vitals every single day. It doesn’t matter than my hair is thin and seems to never grow due to the chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, because I know what it’s like to not have hair and will never, ever, ever take that for granted. It doesn’t matter than I’m short and have not grown since I was 15 because you don’t have to be 6 feet tall to stand up to cancer and life. It doesn’t matter that I have stretch marks on my hips and boobs from when the steroids put 10kg on me, because like a roadmap these little tiger stripes show that my body stretched and allowed me to heal and endure a shit storm of cytotoxic crap. It doesn’t matter that my boobs aren’t as big as I’d like them to be because one day, hopefully, they will feed the babies that my doctors told me I’d never have (infertility – a result of chemotherapy damage.) It doesn’t matter that I don’t have a curvy figure, blemish free skin, shiny white teeth or a big booty because I appreciate my body not for what it looks like, but for what it does for me.
I love and appreciate the body I was given, the body I’ve created and this body that has endured everything that’s been thrown at it.
What I’m trying to say is I may never be artwork – and that’s okay - because instead I am a living novel of triumph, resilience and tenacity. I’d rather have tales to read than a pretty face to look at any day of the week. They won’t put pictures of me up in museums or feature me in Vogue but they will write stories about how I fought back against terminal diagnosis’ and declared my right to live over and over and over, never surrendering to death.
I don’t care what I look like and I don’t care what my body looks like, because surface value means absolutely nothing. I care that my body functions, breathes, fights, lifts, walks, runs, rests and celebrates because it houses my fighting spirit and my loving soul. My body is my vessel. It’s my life partner, and it’s so much more than the cameras can capture.
I want to encourage you to take a moment of stillness and mindfulness. Don’t look in the mirror, because that reflection means nothing. Look down – first at the left side of your chest. That little pulse is your body fighting to keep you alive. Inhale and look at your ribs, the lungs within are filling up with prana (life force) to keep you here. Look down at your legs that await your command to take you up mountains, to walk you through the gorgeous ocean and to dance for you as you celebrate. Embrace yourself, wrap your arms around your torso and really feel into what it means to hug your life partner.
We spend so much time cursing ourselves for what we look like and such little time appreciating the functions our bodies do for us. So, thank you cancer, you little devil you, for allowing me to grow up from fifteen years old in love with my body and in constant appreciation for how it sustains me. Without you, I’d never realise just how strong my body is and just how proud of it I should be.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.