I recently had the pleasure of participating in a Writing Group for women who had been affected by breast cancer. It was a very intimate experience working with these ladies and sharing with each other our deepest emotional experiences in our walk with breast cancer. I wrote a few lovely pieces that I'll share at a later time but first I really must share with all of you this magnificent piece written by Gerry Kearney, another beautiful lady in our group who has very generously allowed me to borrow her work. This poem touched me deeply and I think the message it sends can be very valuable to anyone who reads it, not just those with breast cancer.
I look in the mirror at all of my scars.
I see the one on the breast of the 20 year old
innocent young bride.
Told if it was malignant, the breast would come off
I said, I’d rather die.
An immature reaction to what I thought made me beautiful.
A romanticized vision of a young Juliet lying in repose.
Foolish girl, lucky girl
I look in the mirror and see the scars on my abdomen.
The ones where a scalpel sliced so delicately into the womb
And brought forth three beautiful, healthy sons.
The scars that forced a young woman to wear
the matronly one piece suit in a time of sexy string bikinis.
Vain young woman, self-conscious young woman.
I see the scars above that.
The laparoscopic slits created when
gallstones grew like pearls in an oyster.
But not as magnificent or precious.
Older woman, pain-free woman
I see the scar of the biopsy probe. Its dimple a small basin
catching the water that flows down from the shower spout.
I look in the mirror and see the scars
across my breast and under my arm.
The scars created when the tentacles of cancer
were carved out of my body
Carefully preserving the healthy tissue,
but distorting the remains just the same.
I look in the mirror and see the scars where children lay their little
heads, smelling sweet and delicious,
while grandma reads a bedtime story and sings them lullabies.
I see the scars where they place their hands and tell me I feel “squishy.”
The scars where they ask to see my booboos
and offer a tinkerbell or muppet bandaid.
I look in the mirror and see the scars of a well-loved lifetime.
Scars that brought forth life; that saved a life.
A blessed wife, and mother, and grandma.
Grateful woman, thankful woman.
One of the first things I have had to learn to let go of as a woman with breast cancer is my vanity. Even though I will not be losing my breasts, I have lost control over the changes in my body. It's difficult to look in the mirror now and see the toll that battling cancer has taken on my body already. Side effects that cause excessive weight gain, dry skin, dark circles under my eyes, tired muscles and achy bones are now slowly transforming me into this new person that I barely recognize. There is no going back to that young, vibrant woman I was a year ago. I have to remind myself every day that even though sacrificing my vanity and pride is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do, it is okay. Because my physical body is not who I am. My true self lies within and that person is still very strong and very vibrant and very much alive.
I shed so many tears when I read this poem the first time because it brought on a feeling of shame. It made me want to reverse the clock and go back in time to the days of my youth when I thought my scars were so ugly. Four pregnancies, two of which were C-sections definitely took it's toll on my body. I've always been self conscious about my stretch marks, cellulite and scars. But now when I look at them I see beauty and a small price to pay for a life well lived.
I've said in several blog posts before that I see the world with a new pair of eyes now. I have also changed in where I place value. When I sit and reflect on the things that are most important to me, giving birth to my children is at the top of my list. They are my greatest accomplishment and my best decisions. I was often chastised for having too many kids. I was definitely chastised for having them young. But, ask me now if I regret that decision! I'm so glad I had my children young because it allowed me to see them grow up. And I know how lucky I am to have been able to able to have that experience. My children are a product of my sacrifices and I wish I could go back and start all over again so I could truly value and treasure every moment I had raising them.
This poem also hit me in a very difficult way because the one thing I have always truly wanted and was looking forward too is becoming a grandma. That is one of the hardest things for me to accept about my diagnosis. I had big plans to be one of the most amazing and wonderful grandmas ever! It hurts me deeply that I might not get to experience the joy of looking into the eyes of the next generation of my DNA. But, I'm slowly realizing that no matter what my age or how much time I get, there will always be something I will be missing. And, I'm learning to be grateful for the things I do have and have had. Because that is more than some people get.
I wanted to share this poem because I am hoping that those who read it will take some time to reflect on the things about their lives that matter most to them. I encourage you to stop looking at yourself in the mirror to gauge your value. I think you will find that what lies beneath the skin is more amazing than you realized. We have no control over what happens to our bodies as we age. But, we always have control of our spirit and our actions. And, at the end of the day those are the only things that matter.
When I look out into the world I see so many people wasting so much time and money on vanity. I was definitely guilty as charged of the same crime. I spent a good portion of my life worrying about my appearance, trying to stay thin and trying to stay young. What a waste of precious time.
I encourage all of you to stop and take a minute to truly reflect on what you would truly want to leave behind when your time on this earth is over. I know for me I definitely do not want people to remember me for my perfect skin, beautiful hair and flawless body. Instead, I want to be remembered for being a beautiful human being.
Don't fight your age or your aging... learn to embrace it and let go of vanity. It is a beautiful thing to have lived a life where there are lots of scars to mark a life well lived.