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How Breast Cancer is Affecting My Body Image, Phase 1

Standing in the plastic surgeon's office a few weeks ago, I held open my gown as he inspected "what we're starting with."

"You're not a candidate for breast reconstruction using your own tissue," he said. "You don't have enough fat to work with."

I started laughing. "I think there's a compliment in there somewhere," I said. "I'll totally take it."

He told me to close my gown, then announced, "you'll be able to choose the final size of your reconstructed breasts, and we'll definitely make them perkier."

That did not strike me as a compliment.

His comment didn't hurt my feelings, but it probably could have. And after thinking about that, the relationship we have with our bodies suddenly struck me as odd.

If I'm going to feel good about myself for not having "enough" fat, or bad about myself for having sagging breasts, both of which are a product of nature, shouldn't I also feel bad about myself for having cancer? And since I don't feel bad about myself for having cancer, why should I feel bad about myself for having cellulite on my legs, which is a product of having my beautiful child? Or the 40% of my hair that suddenly started turning gray at 30?

When this is over, I will be left with something that resembles breasts while I'm wearing clothes, but will look totally different without. Accepting this has been a crazy emotional roller coaster. Devastation at not having any feeling in my breasts ever again. Sadness because I won't have nipples (or at least, not real ones). Fear that I won't look the way I want to anymore. Wondering if I won't know what clothes looks good on me anymore. Will I still be an hourglass? Or will I now be a pear? What do pear shapes wear, anyway? Can I wear ruffled shirts, or belts, which previously made me look heavy? Will my favorite high waisted jeans look weird and out of proportion? Will any of my shirts even fit?

It might not be the perfect body with the perkiest breasts, but it's mine. The body I will soon have is not what nature gave me, and that's sort of a weird thought. If it's that easy to change it - a little bit of cancer here, a surgery (or three) there - what does it even matter what it looks like? It's not a reflection of who I am. I learn and change with every challenge that's thrown my way, sure. But nothing can flat-out change who I actually am - especially not an 8 hour surgery.

I lost a friend to breast cancer in January, and she once told me that cancer took the two things that she felt she was known for: big boobs and long hair. The thing that cancer didn't take from her - and never could, even after it took her life - was her beautiful soul. She was one of the most lovable people I've ever met, and no matter what cancer took from her, it couldn't take that. She was still gorgeous, inside and out, because of her vibrancy and her magic.

This relationship I have with my body is changing, and it'll be an evolution. I'm in the beginning stages now, trying to wrap my mind around what it will mean to lose a part of myself that has come to define my body for me.

If I can take anything from this experience, I guess it would be that. That our bodies are just bodies, and as long as they're functioning well, they're beautiful. And even when they're no longer functioning, we are still beautiful.  

The necklace in the featured photo was a gift from my friend Nadine and was made by my friend Laura. The back says, "Nevertheless, she persisted," which the feminist in me loves. It's also a reminder to advocate for yourself. Had I not pushed for early detection, my cancer would be much worse. Get your exams!

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