Originally featured on The Emily Program Foundation’s Website.
Accepting myself- truly accepting, didn’t happen until I neared my mid-thirties. It didn’t happen because I threw in the proverbial towel and accepted my fate as undesirable or less worthy. Acceptance happened because at my weakest, I found incredible strength.
If you ask my 8 year old girl, what her favorite activities are, Minecraft videos and watching her mother get ready would probably tie. She watches with curious eyes when I put on make-up or pick what to wear. She’s taking clues from her mother’s tone and spirit. My daughter is cataloging them away for when she needs to understand how the female world works. This world is brutal with judgement. But in our house, we joke and acknowledge that bodies are fascinating, miraculous, vessels. There’s no room for self-hate with what we’ve been through.
My sweet girl is asking me questions I don’t have the answers to just yet. We try to look at everything scientifically. For my A-type child, she understands that bodies are different because we carry a great treasure within: our genetic code. We’ve studied the human body in books and TED talks. My daughter wants to be a scientist/supermodel/
There’s not a beauty magazine in our home and there hasn’t been since my mid-twenties. If I allowed myself to feel pressured because I wasn’t living up to a computerized standard, it would have taken away the mental energy I needed to fight cancer- or be a mom, business owner, and significant other.
I only have so much capacity for negative energy, I don’t need to exacerbate my own demons by finding other silly trends to aspire to. My daughter is 8 and doesn’t yet understand the idea that she’s too fat, or too short, or too muscular or too skinny or too anything- that will happen soon enough. She’s never heard her mother stand in front of a mirror and say, “I can’t believe this is my body now.” She’s heard me focus on how my strong body is a warrior. I once believed it was a thief, robbing me of youth, beauty and everything that everyone else seemed to value.
I’ve not known how to accept my genes until lately. 3 recurrences with cervical cancer and a radical hysterectomy have left this former captain of cheerleading with scarring, hair loss and a stomach that has a mind of its own. The bareness on the front of my head is a reminder that I carry the alopecia gene. I started losing my hair at 27. In the final stage, I have a brilliant comb-over worthy of the stares I’ve been getting. But, for me, I’m just not ready to let go. My stomach remains dotted with lumps and scars- but beautiful scars. 6 small lines remind me of the final chapter of what I’ve fought and what I gave away.
I’ve lost the part of the feminine mystery I was told was sacred and mine. For a while, I was unforgiving to myself, but never in front of my daughter. I cried at the hairdresser when they tried to use chalk to cover my bald spots and they looked worse. I bawled in my closet when I looked 3 months pregnant, but could never carry another child. I let it all go in a Victoria’s Secret store when I tried on lingerie for the first time after surgery and thought I looked like a female Frankenstein. The sales woman knocked gingerly on the door as I sat on the tufted stool and called a friend. “I guess you’re not supposed to feel pretty after the real world happens,” I told her. Everything on the wall told me I was sexy- I felt anything but. Not long ago, I found out I carried BCRA-2. In due time, I’ll be explaining to my 8 year old that we can be cut to pieces, but remain perfectly intact. Frankly, if this is a test to see how many organs or body parts I can lose and function better than before, I know I’ll win. While I’ll have lost the organs and body elements that most make me a “woman”, I’ll look back and know that I traded it all for more time. I need that time to show my daughter what strength and self-acceptance truly mean. My body has turned into currency and I am buying extra time.
I find my center by telling myself that blood, organ and bone is nothing compared to what I can do with my mind and the power of my voice. How dare this world judge me by how little space my body takes up, or the length of my hair and the circumference of my wrists. I want to be judged by the thumbs-up I gave my doctors going into the hysterectomy and the strength I found in helping other survivors share their story afterwards.
My daughter wanted to see my scars after surgery. Once they were healed, she looked at me and said, “Mom, you rocked it.” And I did. She didn’t mention the fat on my stomach or the tears in my eyes. My girl understood something deeper and greater: Fat is not a fault and skinny is not a strength.
I tell her often: Enjoy your body. Every dimple, every curve and every beautiful centimeter of skin that covers each part of who you are. Use all of it in wonderful ways- discover new skills and Ava, for goodness’ sake, stand there and be proud. You’re of my blood and I am of yours- simply put, we are warriors.