Old Ideals of Beauty
We all grow up with ideas of how our bodies should look, whether that is based on cultural norms, family upbringing or personal experiences with aging. The way we look can often give a first impression to newcomers or express aspects of our personality in day-to-day of life. So it’s safe to say that our bodies can have an impact on how we move through this world and how we feel about ourselves.
After years of establishing how we view our bodies individually, it can be gut-wrenching to lose that sense of self when a cancer diagnosis is given. From the basic feeling of “why did my body turn on me?” to the detailed thoughts of how to handle a loss of eyebrows, cancer changes the body relationship dramatically.
But there is some good news! In the last year of working through these shocking changes, I’ve learned a few things about how amazing and resilient this body of mine actually is.
This Amazing Body
From a strictly physical perspective, the body works miraculously. The average heart beats around 42 million times per year. The average lungs inhale and exhale approximately 8.4 million times per year. My body managed to continue these functions as well as carry me through harsh cancer treatments and surgeries.
Whether your treatment consisted of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, targeted therapy, hormonal therapy, or more, your body handled an immense amount of trauma while carrying on.
And yet it persists. And yet it is resilient.
So at times, I remind myself to focus on what my body has already been through. I give thanks that, even though it all hasn’t worked exactly how I’d like, it’s still going. My body has carried me to each new day, it has been full of breath, it has a brain and heart full of hopes and dreams, and it has the capacity to keep changing. It is strong. I am strong. You are strong.
New Ideals of Beauty
What about those so-called beauty standards? They don’t exist. I have learned, through a not-so-easy process, that true beauty comes from within. It may seem I would have less confidence in my looks during and after breast cancer treatments. After all, I shaved my head and eventually lost all of my hair, my eyelashes have abandoned me more than once, and my body has several new scars. Yet, I have a self-confidence that I never knew.
My body made it through the firestorm and came out standing tall on the other side.
When I look at beauty now, I am grateful for that confidence and a perspective shift. As a mom with young daughters, I never wanted to teach them that beauty is based on their physical appearance. It most definitely is not, but now, I have been able to actually model it for them. I teach my children what I have been teaching myself. Physical beauty is fleeting, and perfection is impossible.
Beauty is empathy for those around us, kindness to those we meet, growing in hard times, lending a helping hand, expanding our learning, and more.
That does not always make the changes easy, though. It’s okay to have times of frustration, loss, and despair before moving forward with more positive thoughts. It is okay to grieve the changes. It is okay to handle the changes differently than the cancer fighter next to you.
This New Body
Hair loss seems to often be at the forefront of treatment conversation. There are multiple ways to handle hair loss, and no one should feel wrong for the way that she chooses to move forward with it.
Some people cold cap. Some people choose not to cold cap. Other people prefer to wear head coverings. Some choose not to wear head coverings. Find what makes you feel okay in your own skin. My preference was to wear a full wig to work and hats with partial wigs in my life outside of work. Many, many women choose to rock a bald head. One thing I’ve found about this amazing community of women is that they don’t judge. I have never had a single comment regarding my choice to wear head coverings. We are here to support one another.
Local beauty stores and cancer organizations can offer tips and show you make-up and other techniques that are useful. Tips can range from drawing on eyebrows to taking care of your nails through chemotherapy. A useful website is lookgoodfeelbetter.org. There is also information about how to dress and style items in relation to the physical changes. It is possible to feel more like “you” when going through treatment.
Your physician and nurse teams are good resources as well. They can walk you through the expectations you should have in regard to changes due to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Based on what is right for your situation, they can offer options, treatments, and procedures for scar healing, radiation skin changes, and more. My thought is, “when in doubt, reach out.”
You Are Beautiful Before, During, and After Cancer
While the changes that come with cancer can be daunting, they may provide an opportunity for new experiences and perspectives as well. Perhaps it’s time to embrace that pixie cut that you weren’t brave enough to try before. Maybe you are trying out dark nail polish to cover those chemotherapy nail changes. It could be that you are picking out hats and shirts that you wouldn’t have thought about before to cover a bald head or new scar.
Most importantly, it might be possible to see your body in a whole new light. A body that is weathering the storms and carrying you forward with a mind that is changing the way you define beauty.
Marisa is a physician, mom of three, and breast cancer fighter. She was diagnosed with early stage, triple positive breast cancer at the age of 35, which has given her a new passion for research and advocacy. She enjoys using her medical and research knowledge along with her personal experiences with cancer to make a positive impact in the oncology world.