Self compassion

I’m Not Fighting Cancer, I’m Allowing Myself To Heal

When I first started experiencing the pain and redness in my left breast I immediately thought “it’s probably a rash or an infection”. In response to the pain, I cared for that part of my body tenderly, trying not to lean on it when I slept and icing it when it hurt badly as I tried to get in to see a doctor. To me, a doctor who was just weeks into a general surgery residency, my body was sick or injured, and it needed care. Then I got the phone call. This infection wasn’t an infection or fibrocystic changes but cancer. When I hung up I looked down at my chest, all of a sudden my left breast felt entirely foreign. I had mentally dissociated from this part of my body that now felt like an alien attached to my body trying to kill me.

Self Compassion

For the first month or so I battled with this feeling of betrayal. This body that carried me so far, that I had an alliance with for so long, had turned on me and was trying to bring about my end. It was like being held at gunpoint every waking moment of my life. I just wanted it off of me so I could go back to living my normal life. As someone who has struggled for most of my life with self-image and who has had to actively work to garner self-love and appreciation, I felt like all the work that I had done to get to that point was slipping away from me. It was very easy to slip back into this mentality of being at odds with my body and to abandon the alliance I had built within myself.

In the world of oncology, we tend to use a lot of violent language. You “fight” or “beat” cancer. We use phrases like “fight like a girl” for motivation, and when someone passes away they’ve “lost their battle with cancer”. It is easy to understand why this can be useful for motivation, and certainly going through cancer feels like a battle oftentimes, especially when it leaves you with scars. However, I’ve found that this kind of language can become problematic. When we use the term “fighting an infection” we imply that you are fighting a foreign pathogen. There is a bug, and there is you, and you are at odds, and in the end, you win and emerge victorious. But with cancer, the “pathogen” is your own cells. This is where my feeling of betrayal came from. I realized at this point that once again it was time to work towards changing my perspective about my body from one of resentment to one of appreciation.

Self Compassion

Part of self-compassion is to recognize that part of what makes you unique and complex is the inherent flaws that you possess. Instead of being overly self-critical, you can choose to be forgiving and learn to be kind to yourself. These cancer cells are my cells, they came from my body, and they are as much a part of me as any of the healthy cells. These cells were characteristically me, aggressive, ambitious, stubborn, and determined, full of zeal that sometimes is misplaced. Have I not made mistakes? Have I never exhibited poor judgment? Have I never gotten hurt as a result? Of course I have. But when I trip and fall do I smear dirt onto my scraped knee for daring to bleed? No. I clean it and dress it and let it heal, understanding that my imperfection was only being mirrored in the vessel I exist in.

With this shift in perspective, I began to see my body for what it was. Hurt as a result of its own human flaws, a body that was just trying to heal. I’ve begun to see treatment as steps towards regaining wellness instead of fighting something sinister. Instead of waging a war in my body, I’m choosing to reestablish an alliance. This body stayed awake through long nights, no matter how hard I pushed it to keep going with no sleep. My brain stayed in overdrive for nine-hour licensing exams. My legs kept me standing up for eight hours at a time, even when my knees wanted to buckle. And when I willed my body to keep running, it kept running. My physical body has allowed me to achieve every goal I have set for myself. And every time I asked more of myself, this body rose to the occasion and carried me there. I owe it to this vessel that has never failed me before to care for it when it is healing, with kindness, patience, and compassion. So instead of “fighting cancer” I am allowing myself to heal. – Rugaya Abaza

To read how Ashley found body acceptance after cancer, click here.

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“You Have Metastatic Breast Cancer: Wait… WHAT?”
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