I am at war right now. No not with the two snarky, yet lovable teenagers in the house, not with the neighbors, not with my former spouse, not even with my republican friends who have too much to say about immigration but I digress.
I am at war with my body. In the never ending cycle that is my love-hate relationship with this soon to be 50-year-old body, I am currently at the wide end of the pendulum swing that is war. And it sucks. And I don’t like being in this body today. This almost always happens when I am 5 lbs up…this also happens a lot after vacation too coincidentally.
Though honestly, war has pretty much been the State of Union post cancer. Sometimes, my body and I can be happily going along, and the tiniest of comments, a reflection in a store window, or a picture can spark a full-blown battle. But most of the time, there is at least a small battle festering.
Now look, I am not one of those women who has a twelve year old child and is still blaming her weight issues on pregnancy weight, but I have struggled BIG BIG BIG time with a body that refuses to make it’s way back to how it looked pre-cancer. See, I had a body pre-cancer that lost weight just like that, a body pre-cancer that could run for miles, a body pre-cancer that had guns for arms, a body pre-cancer that was the body I had all my life, even right after popping a ten pound baby out. I had a body that without fail, responded to the work and effort I put in to make it healthy.
I miss that body, and I can’t decide still if cancer stole it from me or old age took over or it is just me. I have done everything and more that I used to do pre-cancer to coax it back out, but alas, it hides under a layer of fluff. Mentally, I have a deeply emotional need to see it again, for I can’t help but see it as the last vestige of what cancer took from me and damn it, I intend to get it back. The battle has been constant, with ground gained and lost over and over. And today, as I have felt like for a good bit of the last five years, I feel like I am losing the war.
Some days I am proud of my body for losing 45 of the 60 lbs gained with a year of steroids, I can pat my body on the back and say, “Good job!” Yet some days, I can talk about nothing else than the 15 lbs still to go and how I hate my body for plateau-ing and stalling. For advancing and retreating. For refusing to listen to and respond to the effort I have put into the battle.
Some days, I am forgiving of my body, aligning with it and blaming where we are all on cancer, making us both just poor unfortunate victims of the disease. “Oh I can’t blame you,” I comfort it, as my thighs jiggle their agreement in response, “You just had too many steroids and too much chemo to ever bounce back and I understand.” And some days, I say, “Bullshit; complacency and victimization are for losers, get out there and run.”
Some days I live around my body, like a big elephant in the room. It controls me and sets the rules. For years I have allowed it’s quirky post surgery ick to scare me into submission and retreat, making me lose all ground gained in the battle. I have felt like a tiger in a cage, hopping back on its perch with the crack of the tamer’s whip. I would exercise my arms and then like the snap of a whip, the pain would start where the lymph nodes were plucked, and I’d quickly retreat and surrender. I have spent years since cancer screwing up the courage to finally get the whip into my hands, and say, “No, I will decide what I can and can’t do, not you.” But the whip is sharp and painful for sure. I am getting braver these days.
Some days, I nurture my body, like spoiling a bad child saying, “There, there.. We had mouth sores and illness for so long, we deserve a bag of Skittles.” Some days, I am honest with my body, saying, “Look, I know I hopped off the treadmill at 2 miles all week and I am sorry for blaming that fat roll on you; that was a nasty remark and I am sorry.”
Some days I yell at my body, and say,”What the hell is wrong with you? I exercise 2 hours a day for weeks on end and you hold onto fat like it was a freaking security blanket? Why can’t you be more like Suzy’s body? She eats like a sumo wrestler and walks ten minutes at lunch and Poof! Her body just lets 15 lbs go. But no, you have to be stubborn.”
Sometimes, I get really mad and frustrated at my body and starve it, feeding it only spinach and eggs for a day or two, saying, “Take that, I will show you who’s boss.” And then, around mile two, my body says, “No punkin, I will show you who’s boss” and it stalls out. Some days, I gently say, “Let’s try a protein at breakfast, let’s try less carbs, let’s be patient together” and my body says, “Okay! Lets! And I’m game for another two miles tonight after dinner too!” Some days I am honest with my body, and have a heart to heart, saying,” I know when I feed you right and exercise you right, you serve me well, and I am sorry that I have not done that consistantly for you,” and some days I say, “Why if I feed you right and exercise you right, why won’t you do what I want you to do and shape up?”
Some days, I get really angry and say, “Why can’t you look more like her!?” and my body says, “Go hire me a plastic surgeon if you really want to look like her.”
Some days, I keep it real and I apologize to my body for expecting it to look like it did at 30 at 50, cancer or no cancer.
Some days, I have a pity party with my body, joining the same side of the war with it saying, “Just look what menopause has done to us! Twice over now we have gone through it! It’s not our fault! Everyone gets belly fat at menopause.” Some days, I am accepting of my 50-year-old body, getting that no one, sans plastics and botox and peels, looks perfect at this age. And some days, I really and honestly can say, “I’ll gladly take this for fifty, it could be a lot worse.” Some even kinder days, I gently say, “You served me well old body, you got me through cancer, you look pretty darn good for fifty. You still let me do almost anything I love doing, and you my friend, have been faithful and true and steady. Thank you.”
But some days I try to scare my body into submission, like a mean kid telling ghost stories, saying, “You know recurrence rates are higher if you are overweight,” and it works. And some days my body says, “Go try to mess with someone else you don’t scare me.” Some days, I tell my body it can’t, and other days, it begs me to teach it to surf.
Some days, my body and I are pals on vacation. We happily go hand in hand to buy crab chips and dip, sno-cones and fudge, and say, “Yes! We deserve this! We worked hard all year, and we kicked cancer baby!” But this little bonding feel good friendship is usually short lived, inevitably ending in war a few weeks later.
Some days I thank my body for getting two healthy kids into the world and assure it that it’s fine by me that the stretchy tummy skin won’t go back. And some days, I see a mom of five with a drum for a belly and say, “Why can’t you be more like her?” and my body says “Oh please.”
Some days, I just hug my tingly body tight for giving me, no, for rewarding my good behavior with endorphins. Yet some days I cry, and refuse to acknowledge my body in the mirror. Some days, I say like a mean mother, “Who will ever love you looking like that?” and other days I say, “Someone who will love me is who.” Some days, I can’t decide if that is about what cancer did to my breast or not.
Some days, it is hard to believe other’s compliments of my body, and I warn my body, “Ignore that man behind the curtain! He’s just lying just to be nice!” I tell my body that it is undeserving of such kind words and that he is just saying that cause you had cancer and have half a breast. Sometimes though, kind words have the power to end war. Sometimes, kind words let you know everyone is at some kind of war, many with their own body, and you don’t feel so stupid or alone. Sometimes, kind words make you feel and know you are beautiful.
Some days, I love my body, and promise it my undying love and affection vowing to it that we will be together forever, assuring it that I will never, ever trade in any part of it for fake parts; that I will never trade up. And some days, I am embarrassed to be naked and think well maybe just a little nip/tuck here….. Some days, no most days I remember my battle cry of “longevity trumps cosmetics” and some days, I say “Jiggly thighs have nothing to do with longevity Lauren, be real.” Some days, I do think about cosmetics, and then, I remember who I am. I am the same girl inside I was before cancer. Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides, they say. Perhaps I should not compare my insides to my outsides.
Some days, I get mad at my body for being weak and I taunt it and say “OK, cancer won after all, because you will never look the same as you did before cancer, stupid body.” Some days, I can’t see this body change as anything other than what cancer did to me. Yet some days, I get that butt dimples and wrinkles tell stories of being brave and living through a hell of a lot. They do say scars are tattoos with better stories. Some days, I thank my body for kicking cancer’s ass to the curb and remind it that old lady bat wing arms are a small price to pay for being alive.
Rarely though, rarely, am I not at war. Maybe that is a good thing, it keeps me on my toes. Maybe not.
But this is true; never, never, never, not even in the historically bloodiest of wars we have had, have I ever blamed my body for failing me by getting cancer. I have a misspent youth of cigarettes, pixie sticks, beers, whole milk and Goetze caramels to likely thank for that….and some genetics too.
We can learn a lot from owning what is ours; owning what belongs to us. From deciding which battles we need to fight. It has been said that giving up doesn’t always mean you are weak; sometimes it means that you are strong enough to let go. I don’t think I will ever give up though, but I do think I am strong.
Once, a friend posted a picture of me from high school on Facebook. I commented, “Yeah that was before my breast tried to kill me.” And a friend commented back, “Yeah, but we all know who walked away the winner from that battle now don’t we?”
Indeed, me and my body did. We won that war together. Perhaps there is wisdom in the idea that you hold your friends close, and your enemies closer.
And share your fudge with them.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…
instead it should be that of your inner self,
the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit
which is of great worth in God’s sight”
1 Peter ~ 3:34