Every morning after my shower I stare at myself in the mirror. Usually, it’s for a brief second – sometimes it’s longer. The longer I gaze, the more critical I become. I notice the flaws.
With each passing year, the flaws grow. I see the dimples on my back side. I notice the extra skin I can grab around my center due to the weight gain from my medicine. Even though my husband says I have never looked better, there is a difference.
After my cancer diagnosis, and especially after my mastectomies and reconstruction surgeries, those flaws changed. I have two breasts looking back at me. Not unusual, or course, but it is still different. I have scars crossing both breasts and turn up into my armpits. I have no sign of nipples – not even a trace of where they once were located. I have three more scars from a recent laparoscopic surgery to remove an ovary. My whole body image has changed. And at times, it can mess with my mental wellness.
Many of us know that cancer changes us – inside and out. We have to deal with all the damage done by surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and post-treatment medicines. We also have to deal with the mental impact. Cancer can destroy our happiness. It can hinder the way we see ourselves. It can knock our healthy mentality into the next century.
As a woman, we tend to be more critical of ourselves. We look into the mirror and see the flaws. It’s hard not to when society plasters what they believe to be the perfect body all over magazine covers. Often times, those pictures are “enhanced” with highlights or nips and tucks to gain that perfect body. It’s hard to look at our own body and not see the flaws.
Physical changes to a woman can create a feeling of loss. When a woman loses a breast or their uterus, they may feel that they no longer feel like a woman. Those important parts of a woman’s body, ones that can make a physical difference but also had a purpose, seem to be the hardest to lose.
Slowly, many of us women realize that we are more than our physical appearance. We find this inner strength, this confidence, to help us look past the flaws we now have. An amazing support team can assist in making this breakthrough.
For me, I still see the scars. However, I look at those scars and I see the courage it took to face cancer head-on. I see the strength to stand up for what I believed to be the right course of treatment. I may see a woman who has lost the ability to breast feed an infant, but I see a woman who will be there for her child for years to come.
Without my awesome husband believing in me, loving me for who I am – not my body – I would have a more difficult time looking past the flaws.
Angela Banker is a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a sister; she is also a young survivor, a caregiver, a supporter, and a fighter. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33, and found herself empowered to share her story to raise awareness about breast cancer. Angela participates in Relay For Life, started the Sisters Beating Breast Cancer page to inspire others, and continues to "fight like a girl" with the hope that her daughter will never have to hear the dreaded words, "You have cancer."