Do you sometimes feel defeminized by cancer? Talk about a loaded question, right?
It’s an interesting one, and it’s one I have been thinking about for a long time. Cancer changes things. It just does. The other day I was making a list of areas of my life that have not been impacted by cancer, and I couldn’t come up with much to put on my list.
So again, cancer changes things.
Does it change everything?
Well, maybe not everything, but it comes pretty darn close, or at least it feels like it some days, right?
Throughout my life, I have always felt pretty good about myself. I have always had, more or less, a positive self-image. Body image — now, that’s a little trickier.
Has this changed since cancer?
Yes, it has.
Before cancer, I used to feel pretty confident about how I looked too. I was far from totally pleased about my looks, of course, but I felt mostly okay about my appearance. These days this is not the case. This is in large part due to cancer treatment, NOT normal aging. It bugs the heck out of me when I hear that this is all normal aging, by the way. That is BS.
These days when fully dressed, I look alright. No one would know by looking at me I’ve had my breasts amputated, and no, I don’t think that’s being dramatic. That’s how it feels even though technically amputations only refer to limbs, fingers and such.
I don’t care.
This is what a mastectomy feels like to me — an amputation.
When a “real” amputee wears a prosthetic leg or arm, I’m pretty sure they don’t look at their prosthetic body part in the same way they looked at their original part(s). And no one expects them to just get over losing an arm or a leg do they?
Again, when full clothed, no one would ever guess or even suspect I am not the real deal physically.
But I know.
I know what’s there and what isn’t. And yes, I miss my breasts. I do not consider my implants to be my breasts. They are not. They are stand-ins for the real deal. They are fake. They are not part of me. They never will be.
Saying these things doesn’t mean I am not grateful. I am. But I still miss what I once was, physically speaking. And yes, I know breasts do not define us as women, but they are/were an important component, nonetheless, and for a long time too.
Some days, I walk around feeling like a complete fake, physically speaking, of course.
An online friend asked me the other day if I felt defeminized by cancer and all the surgeries I’ve had.
I said, “yes, I do.”
Not completely, of course, but I’ve been torn down a notch or two. Literally.
I wrote about this in my memoir because there’s this tendency to downplay everything about breast cancer (thank you, pink ribbon culture), including mastectomies, breast reconstruction (if a woman chooses it) and other surgeries some of us are “forced” to have.
Breast cancer is often presented as merely a bump in the road, not that big a deal, or just a year out your life (if you’re “lucky” to not be metastatic).
I beg to differ. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a huge deal. And removing body parts is no small deal either.
I have so much respect for women who are choosing prophylactic-type surgeries. And it doesn’t matter if they are internal or external body parts being removed. In fact, in some ways, removing (or shutting down with drugs — who’s nodding her head?) certain inner organs can impact a woman’s sense of femininity even more than a mastectomy.
Ovaries, uteri or whatever parts you’re talking about, are there for a reason. They have jobs to do, even after menopause, and it’s not just being a place holder, but even that is a job too.
And it’s not just surgeries that take a toll by any means.
There’s the hair (still going to do that rant post). And the lashes. And the brows. And the weight gain. And the achy joints. And the neuropathy. And the fatigue. And the chemo brain. And the diminished libido. And the fear. And the worry. And the damn brca thing. And so on.
Cancer treatment baggage is what it is, and there is lots of it to carry around. And it’s damn heavy! Some of us have more baggage. Some have less. Talking about it does NOT mean we are being negative.
So yes, cancer treatment of any kind takes a toll on a woman’s femininity, at least it has on mine. To pretend otherwise would not be honest or helpful.
Still, I am lucky.
Mostly, because I am still NED (no evidence of disease). My issues are minuscule compared to my metster friends’ worries. Most of them would gladly give up whatever body part you might have in mind if it meant staying alive longer.
Nonetheless, they understand where I’m coming from too. At least I hope they do.
I’m also lucky because I have managed to keep my self-image pretty much in tact. For the most part, I still feel good about myself as a person. This is probably because I don’t think body image and self-image are the same, though they are of course, intertwined.
Since my cancer diagnosis, I feel more vulnerable in a lot of ways. I like my physical self a whole lot less. But I’m still okay with who I am as a person, though of course, I have lots of room for improvement.
My self-image is still in tact. On most days anyway. My body image, not so much. But if I have to pick one over the other, I’ll pick a solid self-image every time.
After all, I’m still me on the inside.
Well, except for all those missing organs…
I’m still me in the ways that truly count. (Though I must remind myself of this daily).
And I am enough.
So are you.
Do you sometimes feel defeminized by cancer treatment (prophylactic stuff counts too).
Do you think self-image and body image are different?
How do you feel about yourself these days?
Do you think calling a mastectomy an amputation is being too dramatic?