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The Status of My Post-Treatment Body? It’s Complicated.

By Emily Piercell July 12 2018

We all know the obvious reasons why cancer is hard on your body. But there’s so much more to cancer than just the tumour in your breast.  Your doctors have the important job of getting rid of the tumour but what about the lasting side effects that effect your body? Your friends and family desperately want you to be “all better” that once the tumour is gone, they have a sigh of relief that the hard stuff is over. But the hard stuff isn’t over.  We now have to pick up the pieces of our new body and get used to a “new normal” that we didn’t ask for.

Chemo makes you physically weak, lose ALL your hair, and gain weight, to the point that a different person is staring back at you in the mirror.  Surgeries result in lasting scars and deformations that are hard to get used to. So, after all you’ve gone through treatment-wise, how do you start to be confident in my body again? Here’s how it went for me.

I have days that I am so proud of my scars and what my body has been through but then there are the days where I don’t want to even look at myself in the mirror.  The latter is happening less and less lately now that I am a year out from my last major surgery and two years out from my last chemo treatment but there are still lasting emotional effects.

I had a double mastectomy in March 2016 where tissue expanders were immediately inserted to create space for my eventual implants. After two more reconstructive surgeries, my implants failed and I had to scrap the implants completely and take stomach tissue to create breasts (the diep flap). I now have so many scars – huge round scars around my whole breasts, a scar from literally hip to hip that looks like my stomach is always smiling, a port scar just underneath my collarbone and a concave scar in my armpit from where my lymph nodes were taken out.

After my mastectomy it took me a long time to be able to even look at myself in the mirror, let alone touch my scars. A few months after my surgery I started radiation and from day one you are supposed to moisturize the radiated area a few times a day.  I had to get my husband to do it for me because touching myself made me feel sick.  Eventually, I mustered up the courage to do it myself and got more used to it, but I still don’t like touching my scars today.

Fast forward two years from my mastectomy, after three more surgeries, I am starting to love my body again.  I am a different kind of strong now. I appreciate my body for taking such a toll over the last three years and fighting for me to still be here.  My scars are part of my story and I think it is an important story to tell.

Body positivity is a revolving process for me, some days are good, and some aren’t.  I wish I didn’t have a forever muffin top that will be there no matter how much I exercise or such misshapen breasts, but I don’t want to dwell on what I can’t change. This is my new body and I have to remember to love it.  Strangely enough, I am more confident in a bikini post cancer than before. I feel like super woman in my scars and a role model for my nieces. I hope they will look at this confidence and love their bodies no matter what.

However, the hardest moments for me are when I’m trying to be sexy for my husband, although this has always been a struggle for me as I’ve never thought of myself as sexy.  Even when I was bald and weak during chemo he would tell me how beautiful I was, but I didn’t believe it. I still find it hard to be shirtless when we are being intimate (luckily, he is a butt guy and that hasn’t changed) because it is a reminder of all the crap we’ve had to go through over the last three years. When you are saying your vows at your wedding you don’t think a year later you’ll be tested with “in sickness and in health”.  My body might not fit the profile of a normal, active 30-year-old, but it is mine and I’m proud of it.

What Works For Me

  1. When I am thinking negative thoughts, I try positive self talk. I’ll look at my body in the mirror and tell myself that I’m beautiful and strong. The more you hear or say something, the more you’ll believe it!
  2. I try to find the humour. Making jokes about cancer helped me keep a positive attitude throughout treatment and still today. For instance, I’m always surprised when I see breasts that haven’t been affected by cancer. I’m now so used to be nipple-less breasts that I forget they are supposed to have nipples!
  3. I try to be kind to myself. This one is hard for me but it is my daily mantra.
  4. I am proud of myself and what my body has been through. The fact that my body is able to keep up with everyone at run club or my exercise classes is amazing and something worth celebrating.
  5. Remember body positivity is a daily effort. Some days I’ll be super confident and the next I might be sad about my circumstances. But tomorrow is always another day.