Saturday, October 1, 2011

Navigating Who I Am (in this space)

Little hands crept around the door frame. "Mama?" her voice called tentatively. "Can I ask you something?" I was in the shower and panicked for a moment. Ever since my first surgery, we'd made an agreement with the kids that time in the shower and getting dressed time were "personal time". "Dad doesn't watch Grandma Pat get dressed. There is a time when you get old enough that privacy becomes important," was my reasoning to them, but it was 100% that I didn't want the children to see what had become of my scarred and destroyed body. I thought it would scare them. Because, in all honesty, it still scares me.

But here she was, my little girl, needing something.  "Come in, sweet girl," I called. She came in, fully in the middle of her thoughts, and stopped. She looked. She looked puzzled. Then, taking in what she saw in this new landscape of her mother's body, she started in with her question. I smiled, she smiled. It was ok.

Dealing with the reality of what happens to your body during breast cancer treatment is one of the most difficult aspects of living through this journey. You feel sick from the treatments, you fear death, you fear the unknown, you have to work through all sort of emotional issues with friends and loved ones about your illness but one of the hardest things, every day, is to deal with the body that you inhabit. For me, that is feeling stripped down, genderless, alien myself. I remember seeing a picture of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in the last few Harry Potter movies and being horrified because I identified so strongly with his bald, pale, almost genderless presence. That's the shit side of what body image in this space does to you. I've mourned that in previous posts, but it's something that is always with me.

Yesterday, a friend sent me an article that spoke so clearly about what its like to feel the tug and pull of these body changes. Even if you are right with it (which, obviously, I am SO not), there are others whose opinion, feelings and thoughts you have to navigate. Children, partners,'s overwhelming. My means of dealing with it have been to turn inward and just try to put my head down and get through it, figuring that at some point the new normal will kick in (post-chemo, new surgeries, weight loss) and I will be able to deal, or at least deal with what is permanent. But its hard and lonely working that way, even though daily I hear from friends that I look beautiful. It's a mind mess I that I am still working to resolve.

So this article and the Scar Project in general has done a lot for me. These are *beautiful* women, lovingly photographed by a fashion photographer. Some look amazingly beautiful, some are just who they are. I remember seeing the photo of the pregnant woman on a poster in Cincinnati and being shocked and horrified before I myself was a double mastectomy survivor.

Now, I want others to see so that we can make this all more normal. It's there and it's the truth. And there is no shame. And there can be beauty. But shit, it's hard.

Article here:

The Scar Project website here:

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