Name a woman who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with her body. I’ll wait.
It all started when I was a chubby little girl. My dad referred to me, in his speech at my wedding, as a “cherubic” child. I remember listening to my pediatrician say that if my parents didn’t get me involved in a sport, I was at risk for being obese (spoiler: I became a rhythmic gymnast- you heard me- and my figure slimmed down).
Things stayed even until college. Freshman year, I partook in a daily offering in my dorm called Late Night Libby where, after 10pm, I picked up 2 bagels and cream cheese and ate them with abandon. The Freshman 15 joined the team quickly and stayed there throughout college.
Now listen, I was still thin and had a lovely figure, but I went to Boulder where all my friends could have quit school and gone to Paris to walk runways and, in the cruelest irony, none of them recognized this about themselves and were humble, to boot. So deeply annoying.
After college, I moved to New York City and started having what I will kindly call ‘bowel issues.’ Let’s just say I knew where every public restroom was between Battery Park and 57th and 5th. I was so afraid of (let’s just go there) shitting myself, that I started eating significantly less and started losing weight. I was eventually diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. People would see me and remark, ‘how did you lose the weight??’ I would respond, ‘Oh! I got a bowel disease,’ which was always awkward, but never stopped me from saying it, ’cause I am a monster.
From those early years in New York until 2016 I maintained a healthy contempt with my body like the vast majority of women. My body obviously changed with each of my 3 pregnancies, but ultimately I felt like I was in control.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, I was in great shape which served me incredibly well. Going into a cancer diagnosis physically strong makes a difference. Your abs allow you to sit up without help after surgery. Your strong legs help you to take walks during chemo when you feel rickety at best.
That said, my muscles decompensated terrifyingly quickly once I felt too ill to exercise the way I had before treatment. It took about a year and a half, to two years, post-treatment to get back to fighting shape. And it took work, my friends.
Cut to this winter, when I was diagnosed again. I know I said it before Cancer Uno, but I really think I was in the best physical shape of my life. I had muscles you could see. Definition and tone. I felt strong and I looked good. There I said it. My figure looked great.
Goddamn cancer has to rain on all my freaking parades. I was diagnosed about 6 months ago now (I can’t believe this btw) and I have gained 15lbs in that time. Is some of it water retention? Maybe. Is some of it from the roids I get every week? Perhaps. But I can guarantee what a solid chunk is… The constant carbs I felt I needed to eat, to keep me from puking through the 8 weeks of AC chemo. You know that McD’s #2 meal you needed to eat in college after a disgusting night out in order to function? That is what chemo feels like and I ate in that fashion quite a bit.
Add this to the fact that I basically went from exercising 6-7 days a week to being sedentary and poof! You have the Cancer 15.
Now listen, I realize this may seem trivial, vain and petty AF to many of you. You are not wrong. I should be celebrating having a body at all, I realize this. But I am also a woman who, from a very young age, was conditioned to see part of my value in my appearance. Like it or not, in our culture, slenderness is equated to beauty.
And you know what else? My goddamn pants don’t fit and that sucks, full stop. Getting dressed every day is another reminder that cancer has taken something else from me. As I walk around my job feeling ensconced in a sausage casing, I can’t help but wonder what other indignities cancer can possibly inflict?
And what makes me more upset than how I look, is how I feel. Six months ago I felt so strong. I tried to take an intermediate exercise class yesterday on my Mirror (shout out to the Mirror for keeping me sane) and wow did I struggle. I used to take expert classes with no issue and now I am struggling through moves that used to be the easy part of class.
I am pissed that cancer took my physical strength. I have done this before so I know how hard it is going to be to get it back. And this time, I will be in full menopause which will make a physical comeback significantly harder. If I am lucky, I should get close to where I started by the time I turn 44. That is simply some bullshit
Should any of this matter considering I get the chance to be declared free of cancer (again)? No. Does it? You bet. It is about everything from pure vanity to control to the loss of earned vitality. All of it sucks. I want to be a positive role model who declares war on beauty standards, but instead, I am declaring a war on cancer for robbing me of control of my body.
And don’t offer me green smoothies. As long as I am already off the wagon, pass the fries.