Cancer, Body Image, and Perspective

Life has handed me a few curveballs lately, and I haven’t spent much time writing at all, on my own or on my blog. The reality is that this last half of my year has left me overwhelmed with a great deal of fear, grief, and uncertainty, and writing has not been on my mind much at all. I’m beginning the new year with an intention to write, though, because I know that it feeds my soul and calms my mind. While a lot of that writing will be happening in my own journals, I anticipate that some of it will make its way to the blog.

Today, I’m putting a few things in perspective. For as long as I can remember, I have thought that my weight mattered. I have thought that I needed to diet in order to lose weight and maintain weight loss, and that getting to the gym every day was the only thing that truly mattered. I spent hours, days, and weeks restricting food, worrying about eating too much food, exercising, weighing myself, feeling guilty, and fretting over how I would lose the weight that I lived in fear of gaining. For years, these things served as the foundation of my life, the thing that was always in the back of my mind if not the front.

This week, as I grocery shopped with my mom, I was hit with the colossal weight of perspective. My mom was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer about a month and a half ago, and her diagnosis has changed the lives of every person in my family. As we grocery shopped together this week, my mom picked up a box of tea that promised benefits of weight loss. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I wish all I had to worry about was stupid weight loss.” My mom’s comment floored me, and I was struck with the brutal reality that all of the time spent worrying about weight, or about the shape of my body, was wasted time. I remembered the times that I cooked food and wouldn’t share it with anybody because I was obsessed with knowing exactly how much I had eaten. I remembered the declined invitations out to eat with my family and friends because I feared a lack of control of my food. I remembered the anxious, angry person that anorexia made me, and I remembered that person lashing out at my mom more than anybody else. I realized that my obsession with weight loss was not only a waste of time. It also created rifts in my most important relationships, and that is what I regret most. Fortunately, I know that my relationship with my mom is stronger than anorexia, and it is in an excellent place now. Yet I can’t help regretting these lost minutes, hours, and weeks which seem so trivial now.

Along with the grief of the rifts caused by my eating disorder and body image woes, I was hit with deep despair as I thought about all of the people who are lucky enough to have their health, who have not been given a prognosis of five years or one year, who don’t have to live in immediate danger of not seeing their children grow up or their grandchildren come to be. I was hit with despair as I thought about these people, who I now see as the luckiest people on Earth, not being able to see their good fortune because they are too dissatisfied with their bodies. I thought about every person who lives in a healthy body for years and is unable to see their body’s incredible abilities over its inadequacies.

Here is my wish: I wish that it would not take a cancer diagnosis for us to see how lucky we were before. I wish that each of us could see our bodies for what they are: vehicles in which to live our lives. I wish that we could look at our skin and not see its sags and stretch marks but the remarkable job that it does shielding our entire body. I wish we could see the places where fat accumulates and realize how good it is to have some fat on our bodies, how it indicates that our body is absorbing nutrients and protecting our vital organs. I wish that we could view the human body for what it is: a remarkably efficient and intelligent machine.

I have to be completely honest with you. Despite my mom’s diagnosis, I still feel insecure about my body. Trying on clothes at a department store today, I was not feeling particularly attractive, and I know that negative thoughts about myself will likely pop up at different times for the rest of my life. However, I can tell you that I am going to do my best to have a new perspective, and that I am going to try damn hard to appreciate the body that I have while I have it. If you do one thing today, I ask that you do take some steps toward realizing how amazing your are. Even if you can’t get to a place where you are head-over-heels in love with your body, just try to take a few baby steps. Make a list of everything that your body does for you every day, and consider how amazingly lucky you are. Stand in front of the mirror and pick five things that you love about yourself. Do something to give you some perspective, because we are far more capable and far more fortunate than we know.

 

4 comments
  1. This really hit home for me. The past year that I’ve spent in the hospital due to my chronic illnesses I have realized how much I wish I could take back the years I obsessed over my physical appearance. All I want now is to be healthy, and it’s just so ironic that I used to make myself unhealthy, willingly. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me–frustrating, but eye opening.

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