The Jerk in the Mirror

At some point I parked my body in a corner and walked away. 

I didn't realize I was doing it, and I really don't remember when it happened. I just looked up and realized I'd walked away from it/her. Very little exercise, mindless eating, dressing with little enthusiasm... I wanted to punish her, it seems. She let me down by getting cancer and now I wanted to flip her off and leave her there. See how that feels! In many ways my body had become simply transportation for my brain. I lacked all interest in it.

But, like I said, it wasn't deliberate. I didn't even realize until recently 1) that I'd given up on my body, or 2) that I was so damn pissed.

A little more than eight years ago I was pregnant, and it was the first time I really, truly loved my body. I felt so at ease with my curves and so proud of my body's ability to grow a human being. I was curious and engaged in the changes that were occurring before my eyes. After my daughter was born, I was again pleased with my body's abilities. Now was able to feed her and comfort her with my body -- it was amazing! Finally my large breasts made sense to me. I felt strong, beautiful, and content in my skin in a way that I had never felt before. 

And then I discovered that not only were my large breasts great at carrying milk, they also were great at growing and concealing a plum-size tumor. I was 35-years-old and doing all the things they say prevents breast cancer, specifically eating & exercising & breastfeeding. But it happened anyway: my body grew an aggressive form of breast cancer. 

I'm a problem solver. So when I felt the lump I immediately called my gynecologist. From there it was scans and biopsies and before long I had my very own oncologist. He laid out a plan of attack and I followed it to a T. I didn't think about it, I just went into battle mode.

Don't get me wrong: I got mad. I got really mad. At Cancer. 

I realize now that while I was mad at Cancer & the Universe, what I really felt was utterly betrayed by my body. All trust was lost. If it would go and grow a cancer under my nose when I was doing everything right, how else might it stab me in the back? Best keep that bitch on the bench.

I actually did attack my post-cancer life with the same vigor and problem-solving as I did my cancer journey. I read a bunch books on anticancer. I bought the food and started meditating. But dealing with something intended to go on a good long time (if not forever) is a lot harder, it turns out, than fighting something for a specific amount of time. (Also, a lot of the books I was reading, I soon discovered, had been written by people who had eventually succumbed to cancer. Ugh.)

And so at some point, I parked my body in the corner and got on with other aspects of living. My daughter grew and started school, my dad developed metastatic pancreatic cancer, my dog developed metastatic bone cancer. They both passed away and I took on handling my dad's estate. Babies were born into the family... In short, I got busy.

Meanwhile, my cancer was a domino that triggered a slew of changes that eventually led to the stranger in the mirror today. I don't view this body as strong, beautiful, or fun even (hello, libido? Are you there?). I weigh as much now as I did carrying a full-term baby. Truth be told I rarely look in a full-length mirror. When I do I don't recognize this body. We are simply passengers on the same bus.

But we aren't on a bus. And my body isn't parked in a corner. I can't escape her. If I may switch metaphors, I'm more like a turtle and my body is my house. It's funny because my actual house is my sanctuary. I fill it with beauty and keep it tidy. My family can attest that when it is messy I'm grumpy and I feel as though I can't think straight. 

And yet, what of this body, this house I carry with me in and out of the days and years?

Perhaps it is time I moved back in and unpacked the boxes. Maybe it's time to decorate and create a "home" I actually want to live in.

Perhaps it's high time I acted like I plan to stay awhile.


April Johnson Stearns is the editor and founder of Wildfire Community, LLC, an online magazine for young breast cancer survivors. She was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer at 35 years old. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her family.