Monday, March 11, 2013

Stripped Bare

That's me on the bottom right doing my best to fit my square peg in a round hole
 I think the person I was before cancer has disappeared into the shadows. I mourn that version of myself. She took forty-four years to create and three to dismantle. She put everyone else first. She had a self-deprecating sense of humor. She was shy, humble, and quiet (except when she laughed). She was constantly on the move making sure that life ran smoothly for those she loved. She swallowed her feelings so that no one would be bothered or upset. She was kind to a fault, timid, and unsure. I miss her familiarity. She was a comfortable pair of shoes and I walked all over her until I wore her out.

Attempting to be Supermom

Cancer brought my life to a screeching halt. Little by little with every treatment, surgery, indignity, stab of the needle, and falling hair illness stripped me bare. There was no where to run and nothing to hide behind anymore.

A battered blank canvas

Cancer began to define me. It still does, in a way, otherwise I'd have no interest in writing about it. I resented how cancer forced me to throw away the worn out, familiar me. I mean, who am I if I'm not that woman-child who smiled and performed on cue?

I don't know. All I can say is I am in process, a one thousand step project with no instruction booklet included. I constantly add a new pieces and toss aside those that don't fit any more. The results can be shocking, especially to the people who knew me before my dismantling.

To the chagrin and annoyance of some, I've shed the drive to please others because it will make me look worthy and good. I've replaced it with a desire to do for others (no agenda attached) because their happiness makes me feel alive.

I'm rebuilding beauty. My mood and self-image is not swayed by perfect hair, make-up, clothes, and a number on a scale. I look to my heart to tell me if I am beautiful or not. Beauty is as beauty does or as Forest Gump's mother taught him, "Stupid is a stupid does." It was stupid and not beautiful to demean myself on the basis of what I saw in the mirror. No more of that.

I threw away my easily intimidated nature and discovered my strength in the realization that we are all equally vulnerable and equally strong. I used to be afraid of what others could do to me. Now I'm aware that there is nothing anyone can do to me because I am so much more than one difficult moment in time. Cancer made me keenly aware that I can survive a massive storm and be better for it in the end.

And a needle guided lumpectomy brought home an important lesson in a painful but necessary fashion. Here is the epiphany, my friend...Every day is a treasure and every moment is a gift. I get to decide how to feel and how I will react. I am in control of my inner life because that is all I can control. To see my life this way is a complete turn around. Once, every day was another set of problems to solve (or avoid) and every moment was a minefield to be cautiously navigated. I lived in fear of making the wrong move.

For two years it was obvious to the world that I had cancer. My short, spiky hair, pale skin, and various treatment apparatuses (i.e. drains, neon colored bandages, port-a-cath, tissue expander, ace bandage wraps) gave me away. Not so now.

Now the "apparatuses" and changes are all internal. I can choose to share them or I can hide my pink ribbon survivor status. It's a decision I make every minute of every day. Yes, in many ways the big C defines me but it doesn't control me.

Amen for that.

We are works of art
To all my pink ribbon sisters - If you are struggling with what to do now that you have moved from patient to survivor reading a booklet called Facing Forward - Life After Cancer Treatment might be helpful. It was written by the National Cancer Institute to help us with this transition. There are chapters about intimacy and feelings (things we most often avoid talking honestly and openly about) and a chapter on managing your follow-up care, which is very important. I hope you find the booklet as helpful as I did.


  1. Carrie Ann LahainMarch 11, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    Cancer is a hell of a way to grow up. But that's what it does-burn the child out of you. After the procedures and the indignities and the fear, we are left standing among the ruins of the life we once had, trying hard to see how we can building something new out of it all. Mike and I aren't quite there yet. There's still one more minor surgery and a precautionary round of chemotherapy to get through. Then we'll have to see where we are, what we have to work with as we enter the next stage in our lives and our marriage. Much love, Carrie

  2. Carrie,

    Mike is so lucky to have you. I'll be thinking about you while he goes through Chemo. I went to Comprehensive Cancer Centers of NV for treatment. I hope his doctors and nurses care for him as well as I was cared for and pampered.


  3. Lisa, you are the most beautiful person, inside out. I pray for your continued good health.


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