It’s hard not to think about weight in your bikini (which is how I am spending as much of the winter as I can).
I’m thinking about confidence, because I suddenly seem to have some again. And it's not just the weight loss that has made me more comfortable in a bikini than I was a couple years ago.
I just don't care. At least not like I used to.
Cancer has so dramatically shaken up my body image that I’m not as fussed anymore about how I look in a bikini, whether or not this particular one is age appropriate, or if I look chubby, sexy, lumpy, or strong. Although I wish I looked strong.
Don't get me wrong: ego has not been eradicated. I still want to look good. I still wish I had the body I did at 20. Doesn't nearly everybody?
But since diagnosis, I know that it's not just that I probably look the best I ever will again, I am also likely at the most able I will ever be.
These days are comprised of the ebb & flow of pain. What concerns me isn’t how my body looks but what it can do. Can I still carry my own weight? Can I draw or paint or write? What does it mean to live in this body, healthy cells alongside rebellious ones? What can my body experience? And how can I make myself more comfortable?
Comfort means a lot of things. Being comfortable, as in living with as little pain as possible. Being comfortable with myself, because really, why bother judging myself? What a colossal waste of my time. It means being comfortable with my own limitations & not pushing myself too hard. It means comfortable shoes & clothes I can wear all day at the hospital, that can be removed in part for scans and exams.
Putting my comfort first does not come naturally to me. I expect that can be said about most people, women especially. So it is a difficult shift for me, but an important one.
When I was first diagnosed, I cracked a joke to my nurse navigator about how "at least I'll lose some weight!"
Actually, she told me very seriously, chemo usually makes women puffy. She didn’t say fat, she said “puffy”. She seemed to get no delight from being a killjoy, but that didn't stop her from tarnishing my silver lining. You know, in the interest of honesty and good guidance.
Of course, that was before my bone scan. Before we knew that I was stage IV. When we were still looking for a cure.
In the beginning, every time they gave me a new drug, they would warn me that it might make me gain weight. What they weren't factoring in was my lifestyle changes. I have always been a vegetarian, and I have always eaten mostly whole foods, but when I got sick, I didn't want to put anything in my body that wasn't pure and healthy. The hormones in dairy freaked me out irrationally. I had no desire to feel drunk. Sugar completely lost its appeal. I'd been putting up with gluten-induced eczema for years, but I suddenly couldn’t stand it.
So I drew a line under it all.
With cancer, your doctors worry if you lose weight. They’re afraid that you might have cachexia, that you might be wasting away to nothing.
So instead of celebrating, as the pounds melted effortlessly away, it made me nervous. What if I keep losing weight? What if I disappear? Is that a better way out? Better than what? Is that how this naturally ends?
And then my first line of treatment failed and they gave me new meds, telling me: these might diminish your appetite.
So I choke down fat- & protein-rich smoothies in the morning like a body-builder. I eat whole avocados & snack on nuts. I try to keep eating as much as a normal person should, despite my diminished appetite. Which is a bit comical because I definitely used to eat much more than a normal person would.
And I'm still here, substantial & steady. Not wasting a minute.