This is a struggle I have had for the majority of my life. There was always parts of myself that I truly liked, but then there were other parts of myself, more physical characteristics, that I struggled with. Many people struggle with body image and we are constantly comparing ourselves to others or finding ways to make ourselves “better.” I am all for working on oneself, if it is done in a healthy manner. And I will admit that I did not always go about it in a healthy way. I struggled with my weight and always thought I was heavy. Instead of eating better and working out, I was focusing on a number on a scale and eating little to nothing. I went up and down with this over many years. However, there were parts of myself I did love. I was smart, involved, hard-working, and an overall good person. I seemed to be good to everybody but myself.
When my journey with cancer began at the age of 16, it definitely got worse. Already struggling with my appearance, my anxiety shot up knowing I was now going to have to cope with being bald. My hair has always been something that I loved to change and experiment with, so getting it stolen from me was devastating. I also lost an extreme amount of weight and I was still believing I was heavy. That is when I realized my true struggle with body image and my appearance. I could physically see the number going down, my body shrinking, and my clothes getting bigger, yet in my eyes I was still big.
I went through the whole process of my hair growing back and working on my appearance again. I also went back and forth with my weight, but I did start to work on it in a more healthy manner. After being sick I realized it is important to love the body I have, because it could have been taken away from me. I now had scars from surgery and scars from radiation. I was embarrassed at first, but I was trying to embrace them as a symbol of the obstacle I overcame.
When my second cancer hit at the age of 23, this struggle came back full force. I was finally in a good place physically. Yes, I still had my improvements I wanted to make, but I was in a good spot. Now, I was told I would lose my hair again, go through chemo and all of its glorious side effects, and have a hysterectomy that would leave me with many side effects and a nice scar running up my stomach. My hysterectomy left me with 20+ staples, I was so upset that I was calling myself “Frankenstein.” All of my reproductive organs were taken and I went into full blown menopause. The physical side effects I dealt with completely changed my body and how it reacted. My hair was gone, and unlike my first cancer losing weight I surprisingly gained weight. I went into a full blown depression from all this coming at me at once.
Now this post is not all negative, I am just being real. My cancer journey was not all positives, and my goal is to spread awareness about the good and bad experiences. So while I struggled in a negative way dealing with my new body, I also gained a respect for my body and realized just how beautiful and amazing it is.
My body has protected me. My body has fought for me. My body has healed for me. So although I may not love the appearance of the skin I am in right now, I love what it has done for me. My body fought off cancer for me and dealt with the pain that chemo brought. It healed itself up after being ripped open. I was in septic shock already when I found out I had a sepsis infection, and my body fought it off in the ICU in ONE DAY hours before my organs were ready to shut down. My body has ingested poison time after time again and still keeps going and breathing. Take a step back and look at the big picture, isn’t that beautiful?
Even though I am working on loving my whole being, I want you to know that I do love parts of myself and I know one day I will love my whole self. My body has changed from all the treatment and surgeries it has been through, but I will admit that it is a fighter and I love that so much. I currently struggle with my appearance, the changes in my body, and the changes/later side effects that will come. But with support, mindfulness, and practice, I will get there. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will get there. I met with my gynecological oncologist last week and he told me he was so proud of how I handled things, putting the hysterectomy aspect of my journey in the back of my head to focus on the cancer aspect, and he said it will take years to process mentally and physically. So, I keep reminding myself that while I work on patience in my recovery.
I do have my moments of happiness when I get results that my body is getting stronger. For example, my cardiologist told me today that my heart is looking very healthy. I had to take a risk during my second cancer and stop a necessary chemo drug because my heart could not handle any more. So to hear that my heart was at a limit, still fought off cancer, and is healthy post-treatment is so encouraging and motivating.
I promise all of you that I am working towards loving the whole being of Nicole, the already great parts and the parts that need some work. If you are ever looking for support when to comes to body image and loving yourself, check out “Cancer Grad.” They have been an amazing outlet of support for me, giving me tips and tricks to work on loving myself and reassurance that I am not alone in feeling this way. One thing that stuck with me was co-founder Aniela suggesting a practice she learned. She said to look at yourself in the mirror each day and truly tell your body that you love it. It is not easy and can get emotional. We do not realize how mean and critical we can be to ourselves and our bodies, and I hope more people realize that and work on it too.
Check out Cancer Grad on Facebook, they are truly amazing! http://www.facebook.com/CancerGrad/
“It was when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundations of hope within myself I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.” -Rupi Kaur