Monday, March 26, 2012

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE SCARS

PLEASE NOTE:  IF YOU WANT TO JOIN THE CONVERSATION, YOU CAN DO SO ANONYMOUSLY.

Seated on one side of the room, a 26 year old girl in active treatment.  Almost directly across the room, a woman who, three times in a span of two minutes practically shouted, "Can you please speak up? I'm hard of hearing."  A messy situation was playing out in front of my very eyes.  I could see how this was about to get very ugly.  Naturally, I was seated RIGHT BESIDE Mrs. Hard of Hearing.  I'm a magnet for this stuff.

I was a participant in a group seminar about body image and coping with the changes caused by cancer.  It was a lively discussion facilitated by a social worker.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was clueless as to how many people would show up and I was quite curious to see the group demographic.  Two best friends, one a survivor, the other just weeks post surgery visiting from out of state.  Another woman who lives in Israel and who was in NY visiting her father.... who just happened upon the group, and I might add, whose husband is a plastic surgeon, AND she will not let her husband see her scars.  Someone else who clearly had an agenda (maybe she was looking to start a group of her own?) who began to annoy me from the moment she opened her mouth.

The floor was open for comments and in a very Susan Boyle moment, the first words came from a woman who seemed to be of middle eastern descent, dressed very conservatively.... I mean, she wasn't in a burka or donning a scarf, but still, quite conservative and appeared to be in her mid 40's.  I'm a horrible judge when it comes to assessing the age of pretty much every person I ever meet.  I suspect that is because I have one of those funny mirrors and when I look at myself, I still see 30-something.  I digress.

Words begin to float across the room and I was hearing things I did NOT expect to come from this woman's mouth ...... Immediately, I felt like I was struck by a bolt of lightning.  I'm sure I leaned into the circle and I HOPE I had my Gaga poker face goin' on because this woman shocked me.  "I want a man and what man is ever going to want to have sex with me?"  Instantly, there was chatter all over the room.  It took all of 15 seconds for a group of over 30 women to start discussing how they yearn to have A Man in their lives.  I felt like I was in Sex and The City, The Cancer Version.

I DID participate, I wasn't sitting like a voyeur.... I DO have issues.... totally confident in clothing.... AND, apparently I have the ability to be happy with my appearance because I found photos of myself in a medical journal and before I realized it was ME, I was very impressed with that particular set of photographs.  Funny, when I looked at myself objectively, I really liked what I saw.  Then something jumped out at me and I began to take a closer look at the photos, realized they were of me and immediately, I was critical of every mark.  I did share that with the women in the group.

Because of the size of the group and the time constraints, I chose to listen after I shared my own experience.  As I listened, I began to realize that every single woman in that circle was beating herself up over her appearance.  Hearing the same feeling expressed a dozen different ways and I began to look through a different prism.  It began to upset me.  I wanted to shake these women.  I wanted to steal a bit from Martin Luther King.  I wanted to shout, "It is NOT about our scars. It IS about the content of our character, the kindness in our hearts, the purity of our souls and plenty of other things. We are not defined by our scars."

It was quite clear to me.  Why would any woman want to be intimately involved with anyone who made an issue of those scars?  It was so easy for me to step outside of myself and have such clarity.  I believed it.  I felt it deep within me.

Those feelings were solidified when Mrs. Hard of Hearing began to speak and she was far from being the source of any trouble as I feared.  Instead, she charmed all of us.  At 69 years old and living with her mate, she explained how she lost her hearing and how, despite living for decades with the same man, she too had issues.  Her wit had me grinning and her wisdom was priceless.

The scars don't matter.  Silicone and tattoos don't mean a thing.  Right up until I rejoined my body and there I was, in that exact same emotional place with every other woman in that room.  I've come far, just not far enough.

10 comments:

  1. You really know how to put a funny spin on things! Body image, hmmmmmmm. Well, I met my soul mate Shawn at around the same time I got diagnosed. The first time we slept together was a few weeks after a lumpectomy. I would not expose my breasts. And now I have only one. And Shawn has never seen it. It's not that he has an issue with my battle scars. It is me. I am just not comfortable with my new body image. There, I said it.
    Cancer Warrior
    www.perksofcancer.com

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    1. Flo.... my VERY inspiring blogger buddy..... I'm beginning to realize IT IS US. Since that "support" group, I have discussed this with a number of women. They all know I am sharing here. In fact, they were happy to know I would be sharing their experiences.

      Among the highlights (this is the dating scene where the relationship becomes sexual even though it may not be The Relationship)..... Far as I can tell, they are ongoing relationships. They didn't seem to be be "one night stands" but these women are not living with the men with whom they are having these relationships.

      1-The woman who absolutely refused to remove her lingerie because she couldn't jump that hurdle. The man just continues to go along with this. It works for both of them.

      2-Another woman who tried that tactic and the man was so attentive, he ultimately had her comfortable in her own skin. It took a few times before she was comfortable enough and while she says she is still somewhat self conscious, he has made her feel every bit as desired. She is truly not her scars. She realizes, like you said, it's HER and clearly NOT HIM. Rationally, if this were an issue, the guy would have bolted.

      3-The woman who positively freaked when she realized this night was going to be "The Night" and although they discussed her breast cancer, she chose not to go into the details of her surgery. She had a bilateral mx w/reconstruction. She developed a solid relationship with this man and as she put it, "it was time" ... she was ready. She too tried to keep her lingerie in tact but chose to let the moment "happen" without "overthinking" it. As she told me, .... She somewhat sheepishly referred to her "battle scars," and her partner's response went along the lines of: Don't say that. Not battle scars, life experiences. Your life experiences. And now she is perfectly comfortable with him.

      Those are just a couple of examples...... I don't know where I would fit in this paradigm. I just THINK I would be exactly like you. I'm not comfortable in my own skin and it was nothing that my husband did or did not do. It IS all about me and my own reaction to my altered body. (Hard to lose the words "chosen mutilation")

      Wonder if anyone else will share......

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  2. This post made me cry. Eight years after surgery, I still cannot accept how I look - lopsided, long horizontal scar, radiation scars, misshapen...

    I am confident in my clothes, I am confident in myself. It's just when I'm nude and there's a mirror around.

    I've never spoken about this before. Thanks for the opportunity.

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    1. Your comment just made me cry. Thank you for sharing....

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  3. I so get this! 5 years of tamoxifen and an extra 50 pounds on a 5' frame didn't help matters at all. However, after the tamox run I managed to take off all (ok, NEARLY all) of the weight and I have honestly never felt better about myself. Then again, I've also not had to date in a post-mastectomy body, so I'm not sure how that would go down. It is, however, without any doubt, about US. But I'm not sure if it's about cancer. So MANY women are self-critical about their bodies, and the marketing media does NOTHING to help us! For me, surviving cancer provided an opportunity to finally make peace with all those voices and embrace being comfortable in my own skin.

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    1. I agree with you. First, It's about us.... and second, some of the issues are deep rooted and drilled into our brains from when we are very young..... the media absolutely fuels this with "perfection" on display everywhere we turn. Altering our bodies after a cancer diagnosis exacerbates an already difficult situation. It's like putting the self doubt on a hefty dose of steroids.....

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  4. I was okay with my armpit node dissection scar and mastectomy scars from last year. Then this year I gained a couple more scars from two skin cancer excisions on my flank and abdomen. Now I don't care...I was scar free and now I am not. I am still the same person, I am alive and if people don't like my body it is their problem. When you see what the media feeds us on aging etc, just go outside and look at 'real' people - none are of us are perfect. Oh, and I have to wear a LE sleeve too. To me watching my LE for the rest of my life is bigger than my scars.

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    1. Thank you so much for bringing the "RIGHT" perspective to this conversation.

      "I was scar free and now I am not. I am still the same person."

      Those words say it all, don't they? I hate that you have lymphedema. But I love your confidence. Those of us who struggle need to be nudged (or sometimes, it's a full on body slam that I need) to look at the other side. There are no words better than those of someone who is dealing with similar physical issues ..... who can bring another point of view to the table.

      Thank you AGAIN...

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  5. I have a little theory and it goes like this: The way we felt about our bodies before BC is the way we feel after BC. If we had body image issues before, they most definitely do *not* disappear post-BC. They are simply compounded.

    So the question becomes, how did you feel about yourself before you got breast cancer? This is the starting point to healing.

    Breast cancer forces us to do the hard internal work in order to accept our new selves. We come out of BC mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically scarred. We have to deal with all of those scars or we can't completely heal. Or accept our new bodies.

    So how do we do that? It's a life-long process. (It ain't gonna happen in a month.) And it requires some new tools. That's why having support is so very necessary — be it an online or in-person support group, a therapist, the blogging community, your family, your friends, a book.

    The key is to do unto yourself what you so readily do unto others: Be kind to yourself. And patient. Show yourself some compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Honor, don't discount, your feelings. Compliment yourself. Silence your negative self-talk. Stop beating yourself up. Send some love your own way. Smile at the mirror.

    Do I do all these things successfully? Hell no. But I do work on them, every day. Just a little.
    xoxo

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    1. Renn,

      Your words are so beautifully written and contain such sound advice. I love love love what you wrote. Every single observation is spot on. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with me.

      xoxox
      AnneMarie

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