Long-time LBBC guest blogger Randi Rentz is back and today she’s discussing her journey with body image after her breast cancer diagnosis.
Women are subjected to thousands of messages about having the “perfect” body. Believe me, it’s not easy walking around in a female body, no matter your size, color, height or weight. It’s hard enough trying to look your best, but when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s even tougher.
It took me a very long time to realize my femininity doesn’t reside in any one place; it is me, the whole me-ness of me, that can’t be sliced off in pieces. Although I had a lumpectomy, yes, I do know something about having random female body parts surgically removed. Many readers may not know that I had a full hysterectomy a few years ago. Can you believe five people asked me if I felt less like a woman afterward?! Geez! Actually, I felt less like talking to them, but no, I didn’t feel less like a woman. I should have said, “If you can’t deal with it, then you can’t come to my next birthday party!” Sorry, I digress.
What people don’t realize is not just that breast cancer has left a permanent scar (whether you have reconstruction or not), but that there is no navigation system for helping to get you through the tunnel of angst, isolation and rage, and out to acceptance. There. I said it. Personally, I had feelings of isolation squeezing me into its confines after my diagnosis of DCIS followed by a hysterectomy.
The recording in my head read like this: “Who would want to date a bald chick with a huge divot in her left breast? Oh, and by the way, let’s add that all my reproductive parts are gone, too. Is there anybody out there who would want me?”
Good gracious, was it THAT bad? I’m afraid so. Really.
Some people or “outsiders” as I call them believe that a reconstructed breast will fix you right up, and if you don’t agree, maybe there’s something wrong with your head. OR, if you ONLY have a lumpectomy then you are so lucky to keep your breast. Some people said I was “relatively unscathed.” I say, call the attitude police. Immediately.
What “outsiders” don’t understand is that there’s no official mourning period for a lost breast; a sliced portion of your breast, or a full or partial hysterectomy. You can’t rush your feelings and you can’t be rushed by friends and family who expected, or hoped, that when finished with treatment, you’d be over it and back to your old self. Am I right?
I recognized that during extended periods of my breast cancer treatment and recuperation from my hysterectomy, my sense of time and perspective faded (rather quickly!). For me, my breast cancer and hysterectomy were emotional and physical depriving experiences. It did lasting harm by threatening my sense of well-being, aptitude, self-esteem and feelings of productivity for well over two years.
After I had a “snap out of it” moment, I knew there was no way, no how that I would allow breast cancer to have lasting harm. This kept me from going off the deep, dark end of the breast cancer abyss. It took me quite some time to adjust to my new body, inside and out.
I started by pausing when I felt myself thinking negatively about my mangled body. I learned to just pause. I acknowledged that I was thinking irrationally, and brought it to a stop. Then I replaced the negative thoughts with supportive language. Supportive is different than positive, so if you were thinking, “I’m repulsive,” don’t feel obliged to switch to, “I’m stunning.” That may be too big of a leap. Since negative self-talk often arises in times of crisis, something like, “I am struggling now but doing the best that I can” might work. Or even “My best self is yet to come.” Re-routing that negativity may work wonders for your confidence. It really helped me. BIG time.
I learned that the reason for living is life. My incentive for becoming physically and psychologically well is the potential for my future.
So, you know what I did? I left the Isolation Island. Sayonara, baby. Hello gorgeous.