Bravery

My friend Judy (JustEnjoyHim) has been going through a struggle this week.  She’s lost her hair due to chemo and is resenting her wig.   I happen to think she’s gorgeous bald, but it’s all about what makes her feel comfortable and beautiful, right?

Right.

She is being so brave  right now, talking about her life as she goes through the early days of chemo.  Talking about her loss of hair, her baldness, her scarves, and her wig.  Talking about what it feels like to hear others’ comments about those, and about cancer.  Way to go, Judy!  You reminded me that I haven’t posted an update lately on appearances, and how it feels to look a little different than everyone else.  I think it’s time.

My hair is growing back, thick, and soft, and fast, and it’s clear to me that baldness may soon be a memory for me.  That I can pack away the scarves and give away the hats, and not think about being bald again until the next round of chemo.  (No, I don’t have any planned.  But IBC has a 90% recurrence rate, so none of us know if I’m done.)  While I’m still here on the cusp of it and still look like a cancer patient, I have a few things I want to say.

1. Bald is beautiful.  I know, corny, and not new, but I happen to be a big believer in encouraging cancer patients survivors to do what makes them feel comfortable and helps them get through it.  Especially those who are newly diagnosed and/or struggling. 

I went bald my first summer with cancer.  It was hot, and I was angry, and I just didn’t want to hide my cancer from the world.  I worried, like Judy, about making people uncomfortable.  But in the end, I decided that it wasn’t my job to protect everyone from the ugly realities of cancer.  It was my job to protect my children and my friends’ children, and so I always wore a hat to playdates.  (It slipped off, once, when it was so very hot and my head began to sweat, and for that, I’m sorry, girls.)  But out in the world?  At the cancer center, at the pharmacy, out to dinner?  I went bald as a cue-ball (or a Q-ball, Stimey!), and it didn’t bother me.

If it bothered other people, I’m sorry.  But it was so hot and I was so uncomfortable in so many ways, that this was my way of coping.

If it made people feel uncomfortable because it reminded them of a dear friend or relative they lost to cancer, I am truly sorry.  I’m sorry for their loss, and I’m angry that it took another one of us.

But if it made people feel uncomfortable because they don’t want to have to think about cancer in their daily lives, or because I’m too young for cancer, or because moms who you bump into at the pediatrician’s office shouldn’t get cancer, or because it’s simply too pretty a day to think about cancer … I’m not sorry.  Some of us have to live with this every day.  All of us need to remember that it’s a possibility, and to do our self-exams every month.  (Did you do your breast self-exam this month?  Not yet?  Okay, why don’t you go do that now?  I’ll wait…. There, are you done?  Was anything different on one side than the other, or different from last month?)  If my going bald reminded one woman to go home and do her self-exam, or sent one man to the doctor to get something funny checked out, inspired someone to join the Avon or Komen walks, or even just reminded them that cancer is out there and they really should do something about it … then I’m okay with it.  Bald was good.

2. I have no breasts.  I mean, not just little ones.  No breasts.  I’ve had a mastectomy, and so now I just have two straight lines across my chest, one where each breast used to be.  It’s not as scary as it sounds. It’s rather freeing, actually.  But here’s the thing.

I can’t wear prostheses while I’m in radiation.  And I’m in radiation for the next 7 weeks.  So, for the next 7 weeks at least, I will be boobless.

How will I dress?  How will I handle this?  And what, ohmigosh, will I wear for my photo shoot on Sunday? 

My first thought was to keep wearing the camis and big shirts, perhaps with patterns or stripes to fool the eye and distract from the fact that I am now sporting an utterly flat chest. 

It worked for the first few weeks.

But then I began to feel as if I were hiding again. 

Only this time, instead of hiding my bare head under a hat, I was hiding my bare chest under big flowy shirts.

And it’s just not me.

So, last weekend, I took a risk.  (Anyone still with me?  I know this post is horrendously long, and I AM sorry for that.)  I went to a party with my bloggy girlfriends, chatted, relaxed, and had a great time.  At one point, Momma K and Kristen gave away some fabulous t-shirts (from Baby Brewing, of course!  Dude – she’s a celebrity now!) and cosmetic bags (courtesy Jazzercise).  My name was picked out of a hat, and I chose a gorgeous little pink shirt. 

Thrilled to pieces, I went to put it on immediately.  It was … tight.  It looked … tight.  Now, normally that wouldn’t be the end of the world, right?  But I was hesitant to come back out with it on, because it would make clear to everyone that I was NOT like them after all.  It would remind them that I was sick.  That I had lost my breasts (isn’t that the funniest phrase?  Now, where did I put those darn things?).  That I had cancer.

I walked back into the room anyway, exuding confidence I didn’t feel, and do you know what?  My friends welcomed me warmly back into the group, picking up where they left off, and they even told me I looked great.

I didn’t believe them, of course (what woman does?), but I had taken a giant step forward. 

I had worn a fitted shirt in public after my mastectomy.

Inspired, when I got home, I cleaned out my closets.  I threw out the big striped shirts I wore to chemo.  I threw out the hoodies I wore to cancer yoga.  I threw out the wraps and chemo hats I slept in, to keep my head from freezing in the night.  I even started to throw out my little pink tennies that I wore to every treatment and yoga.  (I kept those, Kelley!)

Eventually, I cleaned out my closet, discarding or boxing up every single size large shirt that I’d had to buy this year to cover my swollen, cancerous breast.  

I am a medium again. 

And I will wear shirts that fit and flatter, even if they make some people uncomfortable because there are no breasts beneath them.

36 Responses to Bravery

  1. Andrea Lawrence says:

    Can I just tell you how much I admire you! You are wonderful!

  2. Nancy says:

    You’re right that you exuded confidence — if you hadn’t told us you were nervous, I wouldn’t have known. And I definitely wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss — you do look wonderful! And the best part of seeing you now is the smile that radiates through your entire body. 🙂

  3. Kolleen says:

    You are someone that I really look up to, I think it is awesome that you have so much confidence and don’t really care what other people will think. I think more women need to show their courage and just BE themselves, whatever that may be:)

    Thank you for writing one of the best blogs I read🙂

  4. Donna W says:

    Thanks for the link to Judy’s blog. I love her honesty.

  5. Whymommy, this was wonderful.

    I am THRILLED that you are developing a whole new confidence in your appearance! You have every reason to wear clothes that make you feel good, and hold your head high! You are one of the most gorgeous women I know– inside and out.

    I’ll bet those tshirts and camis look great on you. How about layering a cami with a bit of lace or trim, with a v-neck tshirt (or a more “fitted” blouse– one with darts in the back and a bit of stretch) over the top? I love that look– the “v” draws the eye down a bit, but the cami keeps you “covered”, and provides a nice bit of detail… You would totally rock.

    Much love–

    xoxo CGF

  6. You looked beautiful and once again, I didn’t even notice anything unusual. Maybe I’m not a detail-oriented person but I think it’s more to with how your smile shines and fills up a room. That was all I remember noticing physically on you that night. Oh, and your new hair🙂

  7. Nancy says:

    You are such a powerful inspiration!
    Proving once again, the things that truly matter come from within, the outside covering is purely ornamental.❤

  8. ~JJ! says:

    I love that.

    Everyone needs to read this post…

  9. I’m sure you look beautiful in your cute shirts! Dont hide in the big baggy shirts, Be who you are.
    I understand just how hard it can be at times. My sister had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma, she was 22 …
    Anyway, I remember after about a year of staying inside, I finially talked her into going to the mall with me to get a bathing suit. We were in a big name store looking, my sister had her scarf covering her NO Hair day! When I heard one sales lady saying to another one, “Why on earth would she need a bathing suit? Dont tell me she will go out in public like she looks with a bathing suit on”?
    Through Tears, I walked up and polietly told them,That My sister IS the bravest, strongest person I will ever know, not only is she going through cancer treatments but she is putting up with comments like your’s with more diginity than you will ever have!
    Now “What is your handicap again? I missed it when you were talking?”
    I will Never forget that day!
    Lee never Hid in the house again after that..She let the world see just how beautiful she was, and so the world shall see you are beautiful too!
    I am proud of all you have faced and conquered .
    Brightest Blessings to ALL.

  10. Stimey says:

    Ah, the cue ball/Q-ball debacle of aught seven. Where is my foot again?🙂

    You did look wonderful in your shirt. I am also perhaps not the most observant person when it comes to people’s appearances, but even in a tighter shirt, you just looked small chested. (But I do love the image of you playing hide and seek with the lost boobs.)

    I can only imagine how your surgery might have rocked your self-image, but you are beautiful now as you were beautiful before.

  11. sprucehillfarm says:

    I just loved your post. I am so proud of you! Keep up all of the confidence. Who cares right. You have earned the right to do and wear whatever you want. You are a truely beautiful woman. Inside and out:)

  12. Fern says:

    I love you rocking the bald head.

    I’m not sure why a bald head is acceptable for a man but not a woman.

    Also, you definitely should go with the small, fitted shirts. (Oooh, my keyboard is giving me trouble with the R key, and that sentence almost went in a much different direction.) Enjoy the benefit of a flat chest — it takes off a few pounds!

    You are lovely, really. You are.

  13. Suz says:

    I bet you look fabulous in those shirts, just as you did bald.

  14. So you don’t have boobs or hair? You have courage, grace, dignity, humor, strength, and one of the best blogs I’ve read!! And those things look great in a tight t-shirt!! Enjoy your clean closets.

  15. Mel says:

    I loved this post so much. It just made me smile to think about the ways we grab life back. Great post, WhyMommy.

  16. Maggie, dammit says:

    Rock it out, sister! I didn’t think the post was too long, although I was hoping for a picture!🙂 You are a size medium, you are a beautiful woman whatever your size, and you are an inspiration.

    and if you do make anyone uncomfortable? If you do make them think? Not only is that not your problem, like you said, but it’s not even a bad thing. When did challenging people’s comfort zones become taboo? I don’t mean in a whips and chains sense, I mean in a hey-guess-what-the-world-is-not-all-rosy kind of sense. Make sense? (ha.)

    and before my comment becomes longer than your post, I’ll quit.😉

  17. hotfessional says:

    You know you are one of my heroes, right?

  18. Renee says:

    I haven’t been able to read your blog yet. I plan on it when I can sit a bit longer. I also have IBC and have also started a blog site. I live in Manitoba, Canada.

    I am wondering if your friend Elena is okay. I just saw some of her blog on your IBC sisters and it ended in 2006 I think.

    Is she okay?

  19. Best. Attitude. Ever.

    Hands down, you win. Great post, and it was definitely not too long…I was hanging on every word.

    Thanks AGAIN for reminding me what is important. 🙂

    Hugs!

  20. Lisa says:

    You always say it so well!

  21. Angela says:

    And you rock. You simply do. You are like a breath of freaking fresh air every time I drop in…..thank you.

  22. Dawn says:

    Right on.

    Hit us with an updated profile pic when it’s time🙂

  23. justenjoyhim says:

    Just — thank you.

  24. mamma knows says:

    Loved this post, you rocked it, once again🙂

  25. Ally says:

    I agree with those comments above that you have the best attitude ever! And I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the paragraph about cleaning out the closet. What a symbol for saying goodbye to this chapter of your life and looking forward to what’s to come.

  26. deb says:

    After my last baby was weaned, fourteen years ago, my poor breasts deflated to nothing. For years I wore padded bras and stuffed those chicken breast things in my bras. Finally a few years ago I started accepting my breasts the way they are, pancake boobs. But it was hard at first, still is sometimes. I can’t imagine having no breasts. It took a lot of guts to do what you did and once again you inspire me.

    Thank you.

  27. Omaha Mama says:

    Crying just a little. This is just beautiful. I’m so glad you won’t hide. I’m so glad you wrote this. Well done you!

    (Thought you may be interested, my Google Reader recommended I come read, and I always listen to my Reader)

  28. JoC says:

    Enjoyed this post. Cheers to being the real you. I am glad you are not hidding and feel good.

  29. Gerbil says:

    Excellent post, truly excellent. I’m sorry to say I’ve been out of the blogging loop for months and have been just now catching up. Rock on with holding your head up and refusing to be hidden. Cancer sucks. Breast cancer sucks. Being overlooked or looked down on because of what someone has to do to survive? REALLY sucks.

  30. KillerBoob says:

    Woot! You get more awesome everyday. I bet you look sexy (and I mean that).

    I mean really, most models have as much boobage as you (we) do now and they’re supposedly the standard of beauty. Right?

    So much irony in this comment🙂

  31. Bon says:

    ah, the proud boldness of this post.

    love it. walk tall, act fine (David Bowie line…i can’t help myself)

  32. Robin says:

    While I can completely understand why you would feel nervous – you didn’t look it. I actually thought you looked proud – Hey All – Look at me – I’m alive!!

  33. Amelie says:

    You’re amazing.

  34. Vint Falken says:

    Dear WhyMommy Babii, i seemed unable to retrieve your SL account to contact you that way, so I’m trying using the contacts here.

    In a few weeks, SL Relay for Life 2008 starts, and I wondered, if you would be willing and able to share your experience at the event? If you want to speak about your experiences, (voice or chat), answer questions, show a video, … whatever, your contribution would be warmly welcomed. Let me know, Vint Falken.

  35. Bubba's Sis says:

    You are SO VERY brave, honey! You are my hero for sure. I love you!

  36. Kristen says:

    Wait. That’s wasn’t REAL confidence? I missed it.

    I thought you looked hot. But maybe that was because I made the shirt. LOL

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