Hello gentle readers…It’s October, and that can only mean one thing. No, not Halloween, but Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink in your face.
I was standing on my stairs when my breast surgeon called to tell me that my biopsy results were positive…that I had breast cancer. I was home alone… I sat down. I tried to compose myself. I told him that I pretty much already knew this, as we had gotten my MRI results the day before and they were positive for malignancy. I tried to keep my tears out of my throat as he told me the next steps to take… to come into his office the following week to discuss what to do next. I thanked him… I knew, as a nurse, that his job of calling a 43-year-old woman to tell her she had cancer, was not easy–in fact it sucked, and even as I sat there, reeling from the news, I felt sorry for him, as that kind of job sucks.
The following week, in his office, I once again, tried to be brave. Ha. I tried again to not just convulse into hysterical crying. I did cry, with tears just flowing down my face, but I tried to not just completely lose all control. I told him that I was pissed as this meant I couldn’t salsa dance. He looked at me… he must have thought I was a nut case.
It’s not that I’m a great salsa dancer. I’m a great beginner salsa dancer. But it was the one thing that I did just for me. Learning to salsa dance… well, it forced me to let go of my extreme need to be in control. Somebody else was controlling me. A man. If you knew my full history, you would know why this was and is so difficult for me. I had to let go and let somebody else lead me. I had to learn to trust my own body. I had to learn to actually look at myself in the mirror. My instructor would FORCE me to look at my own image in the mirror. I had to look at my instructor in the eyes. IN THE EYES. This is extremely difficult for me. I had to trust him… I have such trust issues. I had to learn to feel sexy, seductive. I always feel awkward and on guard.
So when I sat there, in his exam room, crying that I couldn’t salsa dance until after the surgery, until I was well enough to spin… it wasn’t just dancing. It was so much more than dancing. It was learning to believe in myself. It was learning to trust. It was the joy of the music and movement.
When I finally did dance again… a couple of years after my surgeries, after chemo… with a new instructor… We began dancing…my hair had just started to grow back… I was so overwhelmed with emotion I began crying. I had to stop dancing and try to pull it together. But I couldn’t. The journey to that moment had been so long. I had gone from being in the best physical shape of my life at the time of diagnosis… very thin, fit, muscular, with long blonde hair… to chubby, with short stubby grayish hair, and a giant scar across my chest. I was happy to be alive…don’t get me wrong, but I was back at ground zero and I knew it.
I saw my (poor) breast surgeon again and cried, this time about being heavy. I weighed more than I did when I was pregnant full term with my children. This was a result of the medication I was taking to prevent the return of the breast cancer. Then I cried harder about being vain about my looks when I really wasn’t that shallow.
My (poor) breast surgeon (you are probably really feeling sorry for him by now…) was very kind and just listened to me. He doesn’t know that I also suffer from a bit of body dysmorphic disorder. He doesn’t know that I constantly worry that my weight is too heavy, that this shirt doesn’t look just right… And it’s not just my weight. It’s that I’m not as well read as I should be. That I’m not as well-educated as I should be. That I should know more about Jazz or that I should be able to play an instrument or be able to speak a foreign language.
In other words, I’m not good enough.
I’ve done a lot of work on that front since that day in his office, crying about my weight gain… and I’ve taken the weight off. I’m still not as small as I was when diagnosed, but perhaps that was a bit small, and I’m not getting any younger.
Tomorrow they are having a fundraiser for breast cancer at my gym. It is kickboxing, one of my favorite classes… and I will go and proudly wear my bright pink boxing gloves. I went back to the gym as soon as the surgeon cleared me after my initial surgery, and continued to work out through my chemo. I will dance as I box…because I can. Because it brings me joy.
I’m fighting a lot of battles…but that makes me a freaking warrior.
Kind of a life bad ass.
My point to all this? Don’t stop fighting whatever personal battles you may be fighting. Keep swinging.
And if somebody starts crying about something seemingly stupid or silly…perhaps there is a backstory that is worth finding out. So be gentle. Be kind. I’m glad my doctor was.