As I finish up my shower and move to standing in front of the mirror brushing my teeth then putting coconut oil on my legs and doing my skin routine— all with nothing on but my hair wrapped up in a towel, I am reminded how I used to feel about my body, and I smile as I think about how I am now embracing my body. Flawed and scarred, tall and crooked, it’s uniquely mine for better or worse. I didn’t always feel so comfortable in it. In fact, just prior to my cancer diagnosis I went on a diet for six months to shed 30 pounds because I couldn’t stand the way I looked.
When I was diagnosed with metastatic cervical cancer the course of treatment was a lymph node dissection, external radiation, brachytherapy, and chemotherapy. The night before having my lymph nodes removed, I caught myself in the mirror, naked, and stopped to really look at myself. For the first time ever I saw a beautiful woman. I took time to admire my body for what it had already done. It birthed two children, learned how to walk again after back surgery, and it was about to beat cancer. I knew it was the last good look I’d get at myself before everything about it changed. I had no idea. No amount of googling can prepare you for what treatment will do to your body because everyone’s outcome is so varied, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same.
Standing there that night after finishing my surgery prep instructions, I saw myself on a deeper level. Even with cancer inside of me and the feeling that my body was turning against me, I decided I loved it. In the end, my body came through for me and fought, healed, and became stronger again. Our bodies are remarkable. I wish it hadn’t taken cancer for me to realize it. Society has taught women that they should never put themselves first and that their bodies are open to public and self-scrutiny. It’s a double standard, but I digress.
A well nourished, healthy body is something to have gratitude for, even if that means your particular body stores fat in areas you’d prefer it didn’t. We have the ability to change how it looks to an extent if we want to, in whatever way suits us. I’m a little over a year out of treatment now and whenever I’m around my mom and gobbling down my meal, she becomes emotional. Atfirst I was confused. What was the big deal? And she said “it just makes me so happy to see you eating.” Not too long ago she was desperate for me to hold down one bite. I’m grateful for her perspective and simultaneously can’t imagine what she went through as a mother. It is proof that I am loved and thus deserve to love myself. This body and I have been through a lot. Instead of wishing something was different, I think about what it can do. My daughter deserves the example I set by taking care of myself and taking pride in my body. I hope that it keeps me alive for a good, long time.