8.21.2018

The Ripple of Empowerment

At some point in my youth, my dad told me that secrets can breed shame and shame has power over you. Sorry if you don't remember that dad, but you did and it stuck with me.

When my left leg unexpectedly swelled up 3 years ago, and I was told it was always going to be swollen, I was ashamed. I was ashamed that my leg was bigger than it had ever been, I was ashamed that it wasn't symmetrical to my right leg, and I was ashamed of the compression garment that I would have to wear every day for the rest of my life. 

Not only did cancer make me different, now my fatty leg did, too.

Last year I watched the documentary Embrace on Netflix, and in it Taryn Brumfitt travels the globe talking to women about their bodies, body image, and social perceptions. Toward the end she interviews Turia Pitt, an Australian athlete who was burned over 65% of her body after being caught in a wildfire during an ultra marathon.

She is someone who cannot hide her perceived imperfections. While being interviewed in the documentary, she said something which immediately resonated with me and changed the way I looked at my leg:

"If you're self conscious about something, other people will notice it. But if you just own it, people don't care." 

And she was right. I didn't so much decide to own it, as much as I committed to not giving a shit anymore. I've spent the last year ridding myself of the shame, and wrapping that fatty leg around my inner honey badger. I embraced my shorts, stopped shopping for maxi dresses, and gladly accepted a last minute invitation from a friend, photographer, and fellow lymphie to do a photo shoot with my shameful little secret on display.

And the response that came forth was overwhelming. I realized that 30 minutes on a rainy Saturday morning had an impact beyond me and the affirmations on social media for these photos. It made me realize there are people that need to see photos like these. They need to see people just like them living with their self-prescribed shame on display for the world to stare out. Get the rubbernecking out of your system people so we can all resume our regularly scheduled programming. By me releasing my shame, I gave others the courage to release theirs. It's the ripple effect of empowerment.

Now when I step out the door I channel what Turia Pitt said, and remind myself that I don't care so they won't care. Feel free to stare at my fatty leg all you want while I obliviously resume living my life.












8.08.2018

Aunt Barbara

My dad texted me the other night to let me know his sister was dying. Her bout with cancer a few years back had returned, and they opted to keep the information close at hand. He had intended to make the drive down to see her this weekend, knowing it would be his time to say goodbye. But life and cancer had other plans, and she passed away this morning. 

In his text to me a few days ago, my dad relayed that my Uncle Bill said he was ready to let her go. That’s a startling and brave statement to make for a man that I know adored this woman for over 50 years.

It's the last selfless act of a relationship - to tell the one person you never want to be without that it's alright to leave. 

But I know that’s what happens for cancer caregivers and partners. It’s not that they want to say goodbye, but they know the inevitable end is coming whether they like it or not. And the idea of the end bringing long overdue relief is often so much easier than continuing to watch the person they love suffer. 

Death by cancer isn’t the peaceful, quiet, art directed end that Hollywood makes it out to be. It’s not graceful and serene, but months, weeks, and final days filled with pain so uncontrollable the only option in the end is often medicating to the point of sedation. It’s machines, oxygen, tubes, drains, and a withering away of a body that can no longer be nourished as it rots from the inside.

I think death itself isn't want cancer patients fear, but the process it's going to take them to get there. But in all of its brutality, it gives us one gift, and that's the opportunity to say the things we want to say and to say goodbye.

I didn't get to know my Aunt Barbara until I was a teenager, and I found her feisty, witty, opinionated, and never one to bite her tongue. But the humor with which she delivered every line would keep anyone from ever being offended. She loved her family and my Uncle Bill fiercely, and that alone was enough for me to admire and everyone to emulate.