This time last August, I was here in Miramar, six days post-op from the second lumpectomy, and fully expecting to come home to the news that they’d gotten it all. Of course, and as happens so often to us all in this life, what I expected and what actually unfolded were two very different things.
I’ve reflected a lot this week on all of it, from the hope and resolve and naïveté I felt on this beach last year – with a head full of long brown hair that I will never again take for granted – through the hell and back season of nowhere hair and a physical weakness that you believe you can overcome until you realize the folly of your own thinking. As my dad so aptly put it, “Chemo punches back.”
So you channel your determination into getting through it, and you do, coming out different on the other side. It’s a better different, to be sure, but it calls for a shift in perspective. I’m emotionally stronger, but physically weaker. And I’m grabbing that particular bull by the horns.
This week, exercise restrictions from the June 11th surgery were finally lifted (huzzah!), and I’ve been a lap swimming, beach jogging, lunge and squat practicing fool. You see, jiggly thighs and flabby arms are straight up hacking me off, and I’ll have none of it. It’s never felt so good to sweat!
My fellow survivor and friend Katie Carney told me that one of the best days ever is when you wake up and realize that those chronic-ish, weird and unmistakably chemo-induced aches and pains are gone for good. She is so right about that, and I’m taking full advantage of all the wonderful things I can now do to reclaim my physical health.
That firstly means learning this new body and shape all over again, where the abdominal (ahem) fluff that formed my reconstruction comes with the unintended consequence of one problem area going away only to have another show up. Hello padded hips and pear shaped booty!
It also means learning to like and work with what I see when I look in the mirror. I miss long hair. I don’t feel particularly feminine or pretty with this super short ‘do, grateful as I am to have it. I’m also perplexed and mildly horrified by the downy facial hair that is becoming more noticeable by the day. The terms “woolly mammoth” (me) and “laser hair removal” (him) may or may not have been used during my last oncology visit .
It all nets out for the better though, and deep down I know that, even if I feel like I look a smidge worse for the wear. As I’m learning to embrace a new kind of beauty, something critically important is happening – I don’t know if it’s a lesson we ever stop learning. I’m remembering once again that self-confidence can and should flourish regardless of looks – age spots, wrinkles and fat stores be damned.
So I’ll exercise because I can and because endorphins are the best kind of therapy I know. Lean muscle will be bonus, but I’ll never again confuse it, or any measure of outward appearance, with my sense of self-worth.
Thanks be to God for good health and a fresh perspective.