I’ve always loved the word resiliency. I loved the way the r-sound rolled off the lips. I loved the stories of humans overcoming obstacles that seemed impossible. I loved the idea that in spite of immense pain or hardship, the individual kept moving forward, against the force. I just never realized I’d be so well acquainted with the term.
Nearly five months have passed since my mastectomy. Some days it feels like forever ago. Yet other days, it feels like just yesterday. I’ve been asked frequently how I feel. To answer people with full transparency requires vulnerability. It’s a loaded question and my answer varies by the day. Most days, I’m well. I define well by the fact that I’m alive, I’m upright, and I’m plugging along. Most days, I feel “normal”. I’m able to joke, remain joy-filled, and practice gratitude. I still mother two boys to make certain they are staying the course. I still laugh and lament, encourage and holler, relax and stress out in equal measure. I’m still wide-eyed, passionate and driven to make a change in the world.
Notwithstanding, there are the “other” days. These are the times that are a little harder to talk about. Many years ago I had a colleague who always answered the question “How are you today?” with the same, flat, uninspiring response. He would dryly counter: “does no good to complain.” No matter the day, he answered the same surly way. Eventually, I stopped asking because it was like coming in contact with a thundercloud. He was a whole lot of no fun to be around. He seemed to experience zero joy and lacked all ability to see the good all around him. I vowed to never be that kind of a fun-sapper, optimism-stealing person. No one needs that kind of negativity. Consequently, it makes answering the “how are you?” question for me today all the more difficult. I know that if I share the hardships I’m facing, I will likely leave friends walking away thinking “she’s a real downer”. However, I will offer an authentic response that I hope provides true balance.
Some days as a survivor are just hard. While I’m “normal” looking at the surface level, I am acutely aware that under my many winter layers of clothing hides the truth. My body is different and foreign to me even months later. In a culture that places so much value on how people look, (and let’s be real, I’m talking women’s bodies in particular) it’s hard to see myself as beautiful. I hate that I even care or am bothered by this. Yet here we are or rather, where I am. I’m hyper aware of how women use their bodies to promote their sexuality. For example, I’m annoyed when I see women taking selfies at just the right angle to include their cleavage in every shot. Am I annoyed because I think it’s a sad state of how we as women see our own worth walking in this world? Or am I annoyed that even though I’d never snap a pic like that..that I can’t? Why are breasts a commodity? I digress…
With swimsuit season lurking, I’m dreading the moment I’ll be exposed at the pool. I dread the curious stares to my chest. For those that thought I got some great “boob job”, they will soon know the real story. Where there was once smooth décolletage skin, there are unnatural ripples from implants whose edges cannot be masked in the nonexistent fleshy breast tissue. There will be no hiding my brokenness at the pool or at the beach.
Equally challenging, I completed seven weeks of physical therapy in order to regain some range of motion. It was difficult, painful, and frustrating that my body was unable to cooperate. I’ve been exasperated by my own physical limitations and weakness. My physical therapist assured me that I was doing everything I could be to rehabilitate those muscle groups. She reminded me that a lumpectomy, mastectomy and two sentinel node surgeries have caused significant trauma and extra scar tissue to those areas. In other words, I will have to be patient. I still can’t bring my arms over my head in the snow-angel making movement/position. My arm gets tired more easily simply holding my hairdryer up at the twelve-o’clock position. I remind myself that it’s ok to not be 100% and that the body needs time to fully heal. I also remind myself that it’s ok if it doesn’t perform exactly the same way as it once did. As you might guess, coming to terms with said life lessons is not always easy.
Accordingly, there is work to be done on self-acceptance. For me, that means waking up every day, looking at myself in the mirror, and choosing to love the image that reflects back at me. I choose to look beyond the scars and imperfections. I choose to focus my thoughts on the strength those wounds signify. The healing scars are my reminder that I have overcome cancer. I am still here and I am still standing. God willing, I have more days on this earth to dream, to love, to giggle, to give, to dare, and most importantly, to live. I choose to dwell in hope. I anchor all of my being in God and trust His purpose for my story. Where there is heartache, He will bring beauty.
No one is immune to difficulties, failures, or disappointments. We will all mire in the sloppy mud of life at some point. Maybe we’re in the middle of a storm right now. We all wake up and decide how we will face the day. We decide if we will embrace the challenges or if we will let the circumstances defeat us. I’m no super hero and I am as ordinary of a mess of a woman as you will find. What I have learned, however, is that even when we are sinking deep in that muddy pit, we do eventually rise. There are immeasurable lessons to be learned about perseverance, fortitude, and faith by trudging through the thickest of muck. I stumble often and sometimes it takes longer to get back up on my feet. I forgive myself for the days I simply cannot be strong. I rest in the knowledge that the strength eventually comes back. I stand up, rinse off the mud, throw on some sparkle, and keep going. That whole getting back up part is KEY!
In short, I am both well and broken, strong and weak, feisty and hesitant. Some days I rock at life and some days I don’t. I’m continually growing, stretching, becoming and unbecoming the person I am created to be. Above all, I am resilient (*said with an exaggerated rrrrrrrrrr sound like the roaring of a lion).