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Confession Time: Body Image & Cancer

Body Image & Cancer...

These past five years have been an ebb and flow of activity in pursuant of God, self, natural and spiritual healing methods and lifestyle.  There are days and weeks that these explorations and studies fill my days, while other stretches of time are filled with simply living - family, travel, work, daily routine, etc.  With each step comes new information and perceptions prompting even deeper "ah-ha" moments, whether regarding myself or cancer prevention relating to mind and physiology.

About six months ago I began seeing little signs of losing the healthy high that I'd been on since recovering.  I was a little more irritable, a little more easily tired, my body was reacting to every little thing it didn't like, and unhealthy foods/habits became more appealing. My 5-year check-up was due and thankfully, all clear.  But my doctor did note that one marker had gone up a few points which can happen with any elevated physiological stress brought on through physical and/or emotional stiumli. He noted my recognition of not feeling top of my game, and I discussed with him the various stressful events that had occured over the last year coupled with the realization that my female  "change" was in early stages. He asked a series of questions regarding my womanhood and recent lifestyle as there were a few slight shifts in the tests. 

Now, don't get worried - everything was and is still in normal range.  But this is what I love about holistic care. We look for signs of weakening systems to address causes BEFORE the onset of any disease. And it was in the questioning that I was able to really begin to focus on an area that has been impacting my physical shifting.

During the course of the session with my doctor (who, by the way, spends anywhere from 30-60 minutes with me each time to really talk with me), he asked me, "How are you feeling about your weight?".  At first, I answered with what I believed to be truth, :"my weight is fine -  a few lbs. heavier but that's because of some stress eating I had allowed in recent months".  We moved on to a few other items. But then he asked again, "Are you happy with your weight?".  Really??  Didn't I just answer this?  "Okay, I guess."  And then just minutes later, a third time he questioned, "Are you comfortable with your weight?".  Alright, alright!!!  "No. Not on most days".  And the reality was, I had been feeling this way for several months since life had been getting in the way of my beloved exercise and wellness routine.

And there it was... I was sitting there with a healthy weight, healthy body and healthy levels, yet an unhealthy body image extending well beyond my weight. So, began a new layer to peel back. When did this start?  Where did this come from?  As I write this, I still not have reached the original source, whether it be from my own life or a generation before me, but I have made some sad realizations that hopefully will help others.  Cancer was my trigger.

When I look back over my life, I don't recall ever having any real body issues. Sure, I wanted to look my best, be fit and healthy and strong, dress well and present my personality in stylish ways. I loved to have funky haircuts in my younger days and though I never was good with makeup, I learned to do minimal to enhance my features. My years in retail tought me how to dress and my certification process for image consulting gave me the rest of the superficial tools. I was never overweight and was always active, and I was comfortable in my size 8-10 body with DD and saggy breasts (thank goodness for the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders!) and overall content with my "look".

The year prior to cancer I started a more intense workout schedule that brought me to new practices, and I loved it!  I lost a little weight, dropping me to a size 6 - first time since high school!   But moreso, I felt so incredibly strong, like never in my life, and I had more energy than ever.  I cut way back on alcohol and began clean eating.  And while I was very pleased with my physical transformation, it was not my daily mind-consuming focus.

But cancer changed that. 

It began with the surgeries and seeing myself with frankenboobs.  Let me tell you that aside from cancer, seeing your body cut up the way a double mastectomy does will throw anyone into emotional trauma.  Then there was more weight loss (down to a size 4!) , and combined with my determination to stay fit and strong, my muscles began to really showcase nicely. Add to it a severe diet change and all of the emotional and spiritual work, I was looking pretty radiant with the body of a fitness model. I didn't recognize myself in the mirror...but I liked it. And with the multitude of compliments offered in the months that followed, it became.... ADDICTING.  And as with any addiction, it sneaks up without you even realizing it, that is, until it starts to destroy.

As I look back over these past 5 years, I can honestly say that yes, my number one conscious and intentive focus has been on staying healthy (and alive) and prevent recurrence while helping to support others.  But the strong secondary motivation has been pure vanity. 

Admitting this and putting it out there is holding myself accountable for even more REAL work to be done.  It's time to heal from the need of seeking others' approval.  It's time to respect and care for my body in the way that I've grown to love without using the mirror to validate. It's time to allow the Holy Spirit to once again lead my image instead the appearance of my arms and skin.  It's time to be rid of the words of the enemy that are so subtly whispered over my shoulder everyday.  It's time to hear, "You look healthy...peaceful...joyful". 

It's time for some deep heart healing.

When I was in Thailand recently just following this new level of understanding, one of our Phillipino missionaries said to me "You look so angelic".  Seriously??  I was wearing a doudy skirt with a simple tee, my hair was all over the place, and I was struggling with my skin and an eye stye.  But it hit me pretty hard... she was seeing my spirit.  It was the most heart-warming compliment I have heard in such a long time...and it sent me spinning.

Healing from cancer continues to heal.  It's time.

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Living from Cancer
Nashville, TN