cancer and body image

Looking At My Body Through A New Lens

Bloody and bruised, bandaged and bald, I’ve made it to the other side. The side where the known cancer has finally been removed, along with both breasts, lymph nodes, and my familiarity. You may think to yourself, “oh she must be so happy”, but let me assure you that if I expressed that, it was only until the drugs wore off.

Following my surgery, I took a dip, downward. I was hit smack in the face with the fullness of cancer and all the horrible things it’s brought me. Left literally laying in my reality, drains with extra fluid leaking from my insides, I could barely move. Nothing but bits and bobs, and a couple bulges of skin where breasts used to be, I felt unrecognizable. There was no ridding myself of these painful feelings. I felt an incredible sadness as I came to the realization there was no turning back. I can never go back. The damage was done, and the scars were permanent – the physical implications now staring me right in the face.  I began to question decisions made along the way and wondered if I should have done things differently. After all, it happened so quickly, like a train barreling by, I could barely make out any details, just that it was a train. Now that it had finally stopped at the station, all was made clearer, but I no longer needed a ride. I was frustrated. Words of encouragement bounced off my broken exterior and fell quickly to the floor. How can I rectify all this, how can something beautiful come of this mess?

Lying in bed about a week post double mastectomy, my arms raised with random pillows, and living in the same old clothes for days, I started talking with my sister-in-law, Ana. She’s a nurse and I can talk about the raw and gritty stuff with her. I talked about my body and incisions, and openly worried about how it looked – sunken and indented in places, flaps and uncomfortable pieces spilling out under my arm – I stated, “I guess I will have to see how it looks in a month”. Ana replied with a statement that shook me at my shoulders, changed my perspective, and gave me something to hold on to. She said to me, “it will look like life.”

So simple and profound, these words have not left me. They give me peace in times of doubt and allow me to step out in my new form, appreciative of my body and the life it has endured – and oh how it has endured. It has endured being poked and prodded, sliced and diced. It has withstood being poisoned from the inside out, ravaging my body with precision and force. It has suffered aches from the depths of my bones, to the tips of my toes, and relentlessly brought be back to bed where rest was my only option. Yet, it has sustained me.

With my sister-in-law’s words in mind, I think we can all look at our bodies through a new lens, with fresh eyes and enlightenment, seeing sag and scars as a memorial of moments in time, every bulge and bump a part of our ongoing journey, and every wrinkle and line a badge of honour for still being here, fully alive.

Today, I can look at myself and be proud of what I see, not worrying about what might be missing but rather what I’ve found. A confidence in what others might see as imperfection, but that has perfectly gotten me to this place in time, safe from harm. My scars will forever tell the tale of a life worth fighting for… and when I look in the mirror they will look like life, my life, my beautiful life. – By Melissa Powell

Melissa Powell

To read another young woman’s account on how she feels about her post-treatment body, click here.

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