The Bumpy Road to Self-acceptance
Nobody is perfect. That’s a well-known fact. Still, we tend to hate ourselves because we aren’t perfect. There are many things I don’t like about myself. I talk a lot, maybe too much. I’ve never had many insecurities about my body, though. I’ve (almost) always thought about myself as being ‘just the right size’ and I felt quite OK with how I looked, even after gaining a few additional kilos. And then, suddenly, I got diagnosed with breast cancer.
I remember my first thought after hearing I had breast cancer. It wasn’t “Am I going to die?” but “Are my breasts going to be cut off?!” I was really afraid of that and even more so after learning I wouldn’t be able to get implants right away. Instead, a breast tissue expander would need to be inserted to stretch my skin and muscle to make room for a future implant. So, my thoughts were “I’ll wake up from the surgery entirely flat.” Although there was a chance a mastectomy wouldn’t be necessary, I decided to prepare myself for the worst-case-scenario and I was terrified. When my surgeon told me that we’re going to do a breast-conserving, oncoplastic surgery, I felt as if a huge weight was lifted off my chest. Literally! Now, I laugh at how silly this was. I’d go for a mastectomy any day, if that means not dying. But I was in a different mindset – 27, recently diagnosed, afraid of losing my femininity. How perspectives change!
I didn’t have any problems with accepting my new, nipple-less and scarred breast. I felt strangely comfortable when I lost all my hair after the first round of chemo – I was rocking that bald-chic look and didn’t care when people were staring or pointing their fingers. I wasn’t worried that I lost 10 kilos because of the stress and as a result of chemo, (although I am quite short, so I looked like a skeleton. Really.)
The problems started after I finished radiation and was ready to start my life after cancer. It was as if something switched in my brain and I suddenly found my way-too-skinny and hair-less body repulsive. I went from “That’s OK” to “I hate how I look” overnight. During treatment, I was in “survival” mode. The end justifies the means, right? The minute I thought of myself as cancer-free, I stopped turning a blind eye on my looks. I felt terrible. I remember planning my perfect outfit with my favourite skirt but when I put it on, it fell all the way down. I had my first mental breakdown then – I started crying and didn’t want to stop.
I’ve experienced a few similar breakdowns since then. They still happen, but are far less intense and frequent now. Nevertheless, it took almost half a year to force my brain to switch from “cancer off” into a “post-cancer” mode. I started with a review of my wardrobe to remove that trigger. I stopped weighing myself every day, which, with time, helped me to stop obsessing over my weight. I took a million other small steps that led me to where I am now. This process would have been easier if I asked for help and talked about what was going on in my head with a trained professional. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t or that you shouldn’t.
Considering the attitude towards my body, I’m still not where I was before cancer. Maybe I never will be, but that’s OK, because I finally stopped hating how I look. My journey with cancer was anything but easy and I am sure there are some tough times ahead. I know nothing will ever be the same, including my body. – Malgorzata Paskuda