Love Your Body In Spite of Cancer

Today is Love Your Body Day.

I suspect this is not a nationally recognized holiday like the oh-so-important "Columbus Day," but it is certainly something to be celebrated. NOW has put together the Love Your Body Campaign as a way of counteracting the other 364 days of the year when women (not exclusively, but mostly) are told to hate their bodies.

I once had a very wise sociology professor, who very wisely told us, “If you ever want to hate yourself, buy a magazine.” This applies to any magazine, a special type of media (like commercials) designed to convince us that our life is incomplete in some way, e.g., My life is pretty good but would be so much better if I had a Swiffer vac/skinny jeans/beautiful red hair like the woman pictured here....

How can you love your body when you have cancer?

One day does not feel like nearly enough time to undo the damage inflicted for a quarter of a lifetime, but it is certainly better than nothing. I feel like this day/celebration/issue is especially important for women with cancer. Anytime you get bad news, you are going to seek out somebody to blame.

The first time I heard I had cancer, and was thereby “diseased,” I felt a tremendous sense of betrayal. By my body. I mean, after all, hadn’t I been taking care of this thing for the past twenty-seven years?? Sure, I didn’t take it on walks as often as I should and I sometimes made it ill with ice cream and candy splurges, but for the most part I was a “healthy” person. It didn’t seem right that I had been going around for who-knows-how-long with tumors growing inside of me.

Of course, it is hard (sometimes downright impossible) to separate one’s body from oneself, so this betrayal is really self-betrayal and then guilt, and ultimately—if you aren’t careful—self-loathing.

And even when the cancer (and thyroid) is removed, you have the thyroidectomy scar, the metabolism and weight issues, and the fact that you are literally incomplete. I don’t think about it often, because it is rather freaky, but I am missing an organ. An organ people need to survive.

Change your mindset by focusing on health.

But you can't look at it that way. It's not so much a matter of looking for silver linings or pretending you are above anger, envy and vanity. It's more about deciding that the cancer is not really a part of you, but something the strong healthy you will defeat and learn from. In one of my earlier blogs I talked about how embarrassed I felt about my thyroidectomy scar and the great lengths I was going to hiding it. While the collection of scarves I amassed during this early period of shame will surely serve me well in the upcoming cold front, I have not been wearing them for several months now. This is for several reasons: my scar is not nearly as gross looking as it was immediately post-op; I’m working freelance, so I don’t have anyone to impress (sorry hubby); and most importantly, I want people to know about this disease. If I can be a walking billboard for thyca awareness, so be it.

I think the most common body issue for women (possibly for men too) is weight. We are a culture obsessed with obtaining the ideal shape, one that is often impossible to achieve naturally (Read this fascinating article on one models anti-Barbie campaign). Since the thyroid regulates metabolism, achieving the ideal weight is that much harder for us thyca persons. I think I obsessed over this more than the scar. I KNOW I obsess over this far more than I ought to. The truth we are told over and over again (but love to ignore because there just has to be a shortcut) is that all we can do is eat healthy and exercise. And our bodies really do feel a million times better when we stick to this.

Find ways to love your body.

Since being diagnosed, I have fallen in love with bicycling. My friends would say a little too much. But a day when I ride is always better than a day when I do not. If biking is not your thing, find some other activity you love. For years I have tried to force myself to be a runner. My first stop at the gym was always the treadmill. But I hate running. So it never caught on. You have to find an exercise you love or you’ll never stick to it. I chose one that takes me outdoors and is free (I love yoga too, but *ouch* on the wallet).

NOW has a bunch of other suggestions for celebrating today (and if you are reading this at 9pm, just make Love Your Body day tomorrow or next week, or better yet, every day!): WAYS TO LOVE YOUR BODY!

I’m not so sure about the mock beauty pageant or indulgence party (although I just indulged in a Salted Caramel Mocha—YUM!), but there are lots of great ideas on this site. You might just want to spend a little time telling a friend or loved one how awesome they look (even without the makeup). Every time I see or talk to my mom, she greets me with “Hi Beautiful!” How amazing is that? Even though she is my mom, it makes me feel like a million bucks.

Today I am treating myself to a delicious coffee drink, two bike rides, and as soon as I see my mom, I am going to tell her how fabulous she looks (she really does). How will you treat yourself today?

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival" linking to: http://www.now.org/news/blogs/index.php/sayit/2011/10/19/lybd-blog-carnival-posts/


50/50 Film Review: Cancer in the Movies

Going to a cancer movie when you have cancer is a strange experience.

I went to the movies the first time in a long time the other night with a friend. Not having a TV, I never know what is out, so I had to watch some trailers on imdb.com. I was a little wary of seeing a “cancer” movie, since most of them are about the process of dying and how much it sucks for all the people they are leaving behind. Like the only person who can make peace with death is the one who is dying. I am definitely not there. I am more a “rage, rage, against the dying of the light” kind of person.

Also, you may have noted in my previous blog that the last time I was at the movie theater, I ended up sobbing in the parking lot after discovering that my cancer had spread. If this movie did end up being a tearjerker, I might get a reputation as crazy-weeping lady. Or worse, end up on YouTube.

But I was intrigued by the cast combo of the kid from “Third Rock” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the guy from “Knocked Up” (Seth Rogen). Also, unlike most cancer movies (this seems like an actual genre of film now—a frightening media trend indicative of just how universal this disease is), it is from the perspective of the person who has cancer.

This ended up being a truly worthwhile film, with an excellent balance of goofy and heartbreak. It is one of the paradoxes of disease: you have to have a sense of humor to get through it and yet you want people to recognize that it is both shitty and significant, without pitying you.

The audience is given as close a perspective of the protagonist, Adam, as possible without narrative voice-over. Adam himself is a kind of everyman; simultaneously likeable and disappointing (you want to push him to do better). The way that he experiences cancer is pretty accurate in terms of emotions and events. The only aspect of his treatment that I did not fully identify with was his reaction to drugs: morphine gave me a headache and thyroid cancer does not merit prescription marijuana.

Of course there are subplots intertwined with his cancer diagnosis: two romantic entanglements and a complicated family dynamic. The romances led to many comic moments and the family relationships were both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The film highlighted the silver lining of a new perspective gained. Perhaps this is not so with everyone, but family has become a much bigger priority in my life since my diagnosis. My feelings have not changed, but my willingness to act on them has.

Adam’s relationship with his best friend is also quite endearing. It illustrates the difficult balance friends must maintain between easing fears (jokes) and showing care. Sometimes you want to smack Rogen’s character, but even before his most poignant scenes you understand that his inappropriateness is attempted compensation for not having a clue how to deal with this situation.

Once the film ended my friend turned to me, tears in eyes, and hugged me, saying “I have been such a crappy friend.” I was rather surprised (and more than a little embarrassed since the people squeezing past us were staring) that she felt this way. There weren’t any characters in the movie that I would characterize as “exemplary” in their encounters with cancer, although Anna Kendrick’s character comes close. Maybe my friend saw a little of herself in the Seth Rogen character because she has not really dealt with the whole cancer thing directly (ie. talking about it). But she has been a friend throughout. Exactly as she was before. And as the movie points out, when your life is thrown into a funk, you crave normalcy. The only bad friends are the ones who abandon you (there are examples of this too).

I also did not escape this film with dry eyes. There are plenty of sad moments, and I think my original suspicions were right in that I felt a lot of the scenes more intensely than I would have had I not gone through it myself. The pre-surgery scenes are especially difficult. However, this is not one of those movies that psychologically beat the crap out of you (what I like to refer to as “Lonesome Dove Literature”). It has an uplifting, move-on-with-life ending without getting overly sappy or preachy. It illustrates that ultimately, there are no capital-A Answers, no certainties in this life. Each of us is left wondering and hoping, “What next?”