Who GAINS weight while in treatment for cancer? This girl, right here! Yes, clearly, I can see it, I can feel it, and I don't like it. In 2003-2004 I lost over 100 pounds (by my own fitness choices and dedicated effort) so I do know how to do it, and I know I can and will get back to my physically fit self again, but in the meantime I have to deal with how I look right now.
I will say right off the start, please consider it a disclaimer:
I am not complaining.
I am happy to be alive.
I am grateful that I am not wasting away and dealing with being too thin as part of my cancer journey. Many people suffer with that and I imagine some day I may have that problem, but in the meantime I have a bit of extra "fluff." My oncologist has even told me not to worry about it, she went as far as to say "We like our patients to have a bit of extra weight, it gives us more to work with." :-S
Not that I considered that free reign to behave as I wish, but combine that with being laid up after surgery, inactivity from feeling fatigued and weak, weight gain from treatment(S) and adjusting to medication post-thyroidectomy, trying to find balance between living for the day and not worrying about the future, and all of the lovely treats and foodie gifts we gratefully receive... I am a bit puffier than I wish to be.
Having said that, I can be happy it gives me inspiration to discuss something that must be an issue for most cancer patient/survivors: How we look.
Part of the loss of control over our lives is how we are affected inside and out. How we appear to others is a large topic for many of us, especially women. Take for example all of the beautiful breast cancer survivors we know who suffer the loss of their hair during chemotherapy. Wigs, scarves, beautiful henna tattoos, make-up and makeover classes - reasonably large connection to the cancer department. All ways to help us feel better about ourselves, inside and out.
Because I have not lost my hair or any weight, like many cancer (or hepatitis!) sufferers who receive systemic therapy, I do not fit the stereotypical perception of a sick person. When I am out I receive many compliments for how I look, and I appreciate that, but inside I cringe, thinking "oh dear I look terrible!!" Thanks for lying to me! Or thanks for loving me. I digress..
I have had some time to ponder the things that affect my self-image, and my self-esteem. Yes, there is a list. LOL Did you expect any different?
Again, I am not seeking sympathy (or advice on how to fix it!), I just wish to share some points about my current state of being. I am dealing with it, it is part of my journey and I am embracing it.
I am embracing it by going shopping!! hehe
At least my shoes still fit... oh wait NO I had to cut the straps off my Mary Janes, Right!!
Here is one of my solutions:
<---- And YES, I have finally come to that point in my life where my daughters and I share the same foot size. YAY!! Six pairs of pretty flats yesterday - thank you Claire and Cassandra!! (for having big feet too)
We went shopping yesterday, a much-needed and long-awaited step in my rehabilitation. I have been living in my yoga pants since my first surgery April 3, 2014. The mole excision on my hip was surprisingly painful, and my dress pants were just not a comfortable fit after that. Yoga pants rule.
Hip mole dent and second surgery scar and lymphedema in my right leg make most pants a daunting challenge these days, so yesterday I explored some other options.
First off I did buy new jeans. Pretty exciting actually, and they were even a size smaller than I thought they would have to be, not nearly as big as my pre-twin-pregnancy days (for those who did not know me then, I was pretty heavy in my early twenties). Stretchy and flat-fronted, I can tolerate them for the time being. A long dress was in order also, and I found a cool pair of dress pants with fluffy wide legs that are so cute - and comfortable! - I just HAD to have them. Some pretty breezy tops and accessories and I left the mall exhausted but feeling productive.
I have something to wear for some upcoming engagements on my calendar, or even for when my friends come to visit and politely not comment on the fact that I am STILL AGAIN wearing my yoga pants.
Inside I know that when I lose the weight I can donate these clothes (as I did with my last XL wardrobe) to someone else who needs them, but in the meantime I can feel stylish and a teensy bit more like my old self.
It took some work to cover up the lymphedema leg in a comfortable way, as well as the scars. I am quite self-conscious about my scars, but the girls say I shouldn't be. They maintain that "a scar is proof that something tried to hurt you, but didn't succeed!" A couple of my male friends too have assured me that my scars are "cool" - not every girl has a dent in her butt! I am unique and remarkable. HA HA.
The one scar that I couldn't cover with clothing yesterday was that from my thyroidectomy. 32 surgical staples around the neck and collarbone make for a decent residual effect, and though it has healed well, I still feel it. And see it. Warm weather is coming and I am getting tired of sweating under my collection of pretty scarves, plus I miss my awesome collection of jewelry. I am a necklace nut.
So what if my neck is a bit caved in on one side? It is still mine. I have thought it was swelling on the left side of my neck, but when I finally forced myself to examine it the other day in the huge hotel mirrors I couldn't avoid, I realised that the swollen-looking part is not actually swollen any more. The part below it is just caved in, hollowed out. My hip-leg area is like that too, and I have seen it in others who have had similar types of surgeries. They removed a bunch of meat with the lymph nodes, tissue that will never grow back.
Along with that came my sensitive left shoulder. As I was shopping yesterday, bumping into jewelry racks with my backpack LOL yes... my backpack, it occurred to me that I might look like one of those grey-haired hippie types who wear backpacks instead of a stylish purse?? My left shoulder received some nerve damage during thyroid surgery, and it is no longer comfortable to carry a purse on it like I did.
For the ladies reading out there... ever try to switch your purse side?? It just does not work. I spotted a gorgeous backpack a few weeks ago in Toronto and HAD to have it too. I now wear a backpack to carry all my stuff, it has padded straps and evenly disperses the weight of my load.
So clothing covered and accessories dusted off, one remaining physical feature on my mind: my pale skin. Yes, my lack of tan. All over. My face, my scars, my arms and eeeek legs, I was not even this white when I was born. I can't even say I am rockin' the Snow White look. To me, I am blotchy and ghostly looking. There is not enough makeup in this house to fix that.
I am adjusting to that, as I consider my relationship with the sun. Obviously it would not be acceptable to be a melanoma awareness advocate with a beautiful tan?
Again I have to weigh out my acceptance of that part of my appearance. And how much I care about how others may or may not perceive my acceptance or lack thereof.
Perhaps they wouldn't notice? Quite likely they do not care. Maybe they love me regardless and accept however I look as part of the package? I am still here and that's what really counts. How I look while I am here is important to me, but it is just one part of my journey.
While I work out the issues on my inside, I may as well wrap the outside in a pretty new outfit. Fake it 'til you make it? Or good fashion sense, either way I will be more graceful about accepting the compliments. And facing the mirror.
Article and Photos © Natalie Richardson 2015