Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I started the month of November with a clear mission. Cancer had taken a lot from me but I was determined to take some of it back. The loss that bothered me the most was the disconnect from my body. It’s hard to take care of something you don’t care for and I wanted to care again. I wanted to feel feminine again. I wanted to feel sexy again. So I assembled a team of my best gal-pal goddesses, the ones who embodied every aspect of being a strong, sexy and smart female, for missions and assignments to guide me on my journey. I reached out to the one man I felt like I could trust with my deepest struggles and darkest visions of myself, for his help and suggestions as well. And in no time at all, November became “Sexvember.”

If you’re thinking that my mission for the month was to reconnect with my body through connecting with another body, you’re wrong. Mostly wrong, anyways. To be honest, I thought that was going to be a cure all to thing disconnect. Sex and sexuality is a huge part of being human and I was so far removed from either. When my friends turned twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six, their lives continued to be filled with adventures (many of them horizontal) with the opposite sex. When I was twenty-four, I was diagnosed with cancer and spent my twenty-fifth year and what I’ve lived of my twenty-sixth year wrapped up in that diagnosis. Want to know what I’ve thought about most during this period of time? Survival. The first disconnects from my physical-self, sex and sexuality grew from that.

The American Cancer Society describes the difference between sex and sexuality in the following way: “Sex is thought of as an activity-something you do with a partner. Sexuality is more about the way you feel and is linked to your need for caring, closeness, and touch.” Some patients are lucky enough to have a trusted partner by their side through out, for a safe place to navigate cancer, sex, and sexuality. A lot of patients are like me though and did not. Having only lived one experience I cannot say which is easier. What I can say though is this disconnect from my body and my sexuality has affected my self-image and relationships. I have spent a year and a half feeling awkward and exposed. How do you begin to partner with another when you’re so uncomfortable alone?

So Sexvember began filled with tasks like buying pretty underwear and dressing up. I had to get flirty with strangers and make some purchases that my father would be uncomfortable reading about. About halfway through the month I found myself in a really great place. I had yet to see how I felt with a man, but on my own I was feeling quite confident and even a bit sexy again. Conscious practice paid off once again. With these feelings I also found hope and a new zest for life.

When I felt ready to see how this newfound strength lasted with the addition of another, I did. And how did this reborn sexy, cancer diva fare? She didn’t. And it wasn’t because of timing, it wasn’t because of setting, and it most certainly wasn’t because of the partner. It took a long month of reflecting and a lot of emotions to figure out what that was. Eventually the why behind my inability to feel any sort of confidence underneath my clothes and the privacy of quiet bedroom stemmed down to one thing: Shame.

I was ashamed. I am ashamed. I’m ashamed of my scars. I’m ashamed of the results that what I thought would be my only round of reconstructive therapy brought. I’m ashamed that I’ve had plastic surgery. I’m ashamed of my physical restrictions. I’m ashamed of the way my whole body has changed. I’m ashamed of the wimpy limbs that used to be full of muscles. I’m ashamed of this Tamoxifen “pooch” that sits on my stomach. I’m ashamed of this often-insane afro. I’m ashamed. And this shame combined with worry most definitely affects desire.

I wasn’t aware of this shame until recently. I powered through every change and never had to consider or feel the consequences of them deeply. Again, all that mattered was survival. Now that I’m surviving, a drive to reflect has surfaced. To say losing something like your breasts is distressing is an incredible understatement. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. In a world wrapped up in beauty and breasts tied to womanhood, saying goodbye to these meant saying goodbye to some security as well. Insecurity has caused me to withdraw at times. And if the visible scars aren’t powerful enough, there are also the scars that cannot be seen but instead felt in my heart. With a changed view of myself and an uncertainty about my future, I am affected and others are too.

 This is a problem. But like any problem, a resolution cannot be found until the source is identified, and thankfully I have found the root, all wrapped up in shame.

So how does one solve a problem like this? When I do solve it, and I will, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I am working towards a solution in various ways. An easy place to start for me was through exercise (combined with a lot of patience). If I’m missing my muscles, I’ll rebuild them. If I’m feeling the weight of my physical limitations, I’ll do what I can to shrink them. Making an effort to do what I need to to feel beautiful is in my control as well. Sweatpants are comfortable but they don’t make me feel good. Red lipstick and gold hoops on the other hand can do that. Another way is just spending time with my unclothed body. Great trauma and change happened in such a small amount of time and I haven’t given myself much of a chance to familiarize with it. What to my scars look like? What are my implants like? What parts of me were left untouched? What little bits of me do I still love?

The biggest task though is to improve my self-image. I may not care how others view me, for that is out of my control, but I do care deeply about how I view myself. For me, this has come in the form of finding a positive twist on a negative thought and as usual, celebrating any little bit of myself that I can. My feet didn’t change much from cancer; they are still the same feet that carried me through many miles of running and many days of teaching. My legs, though slightly altered, are still the same legs that powered me to finaling at two international swimming competitions. My stomach, different now than before cancer, survived chemo and surgery, and shows glimpses of the athletic core I used to own. My chest, completely changed, bears mark of my strength and truest courage and houses a heart that is still capable of loving a man and caring for others in extraordinary ways. My arms are limited with their range of motion and ability, but they can still carry a surfboard and offer hugs. And on my head sits hair that is shorter than before, but my face still lights up when I smile and my curious, chaotic mind is still in there.

The people I am loved by practice a much greater patience than I possess which allows me to be patient with myself and the timeline that my healing is happening on.

I don't know what I'm trying to offer you through this writing. Maybe just that if you're feeling anything like this, you're not alone. And you're not crazy- I mean, I'm not and if the feelings are mutual then you aren't either... Right?

I've found the best way to solve a problem is to acknowledge the source. I know the ending to this chapter that I want. And I like my chances of getting there.

Keep on trucking, everyone....

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing so honestly about a subject that too often isn't talked about