I will admit to being a female who had always been very concerned with my outward appearance. I was as superficial as they come. My long hair cascading down my back, my perfect glowing skin, celebrity inspired makeup, my physique -- it was all a very crucial part of my being. I liked to present myself as attractively as possible on the outside because I believed it brought me a lot of affirmative attention which I needed to make me happy on the inside. I loved attention. I loved feeling beautiful. But cancer has changed all of that for me. In its most positive way, it has been a blessing that that I have been able to re-evaluate my perception of beauty, and because of this, I feel the most beautiful and confident I have ever felt my entire life.
In mid August 2012, at 21 years old, I went under the knife to change a part of myself that at the time, I absolutely hated. I was so obsessed with my appearance that I went as far as having rhinoplasty to remove a bump on the bridge of my nose that had been consuming me for years. It is hard to describe how one little part of myself could cause so much negative thought and obsession, but ironically, it was this surgery that led me to discover a tumor in my chest.
Looking back, I know that I would have been able to go on with life without having the surgery, especially after feeling what I feel now. But I can't say I regret it, because perhaps if I didn't have that surgery, I wouldn't have paid as much attention to the pain on the left side of my neck I was feeling a week post operation. According to my doctors, a blood clot had formed in my jugular causing swelling in my neck. An eight centimeter tumor under my sternum was pressing against the vein making circulation difficult. It was completely coincidental with the scheduling of the surgery. However, because I had the operation, any issues surrounding my body at the time were very concerning to me. Evidently my nose job did not cause my cancer, nor did the surgery cause the blood clot, but the timing was just right that it led to my diagnosis.
I went from being a girl obsessed with growing her long hair, trying to attain a perfect figure, and a now acceptable face, to someone who did not even recognize herself when she looked in the mirror. I was bald. I was bloated from my medications. Bruised from daily blood thinner injections. My eyelashes and eyebrows had been disappearing, taking away from any femininity I had left in my face. Every superficial thing I loved about my self was gone. I can't even begin to fathom what a breast cancer patient would feel like having a breast removed on top of these side effects. I feel guilty for even comparing myself because I do not know such pain, but I had so much difficulties dealing with the loss of my perceived femininity I cannot imagine how they would feel.
I don't like admitting that the most difficult inner battle for me throughout my chemotherapy treatment had been dealing with my appearance, but it is the truth. I recognize how blessed I am that if my appearance was the biggest of my concerns, I was so lucky. In the past six cycles of treatment I had rarely been nauseous, just mostly tired. I had an overwhelming support system of family and friends that had been constantly by my side ensuring I had everything I needed.
My diagnosis was Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I had an incredible survival rate and I decided then and there to never even consider dying as a possibility. I have not known the fear of death throughout this entire trial. The only thing I was left to worry over was looking in the mirror and loving the person that looked back at me. I had to discover how to look at myself again. It was an opportunity to learn to see past the physical and catch sight of the real me- the parts that cancer could not take.
Feeling confident in one's appearance is essential in feeling positive and loving oneself. There is no doubt that a positive attitude is indispensable when battling cancer. I had to throw away every convention of beauty and any notion of attractiveness to be able to accept the way I looked so I could love myself and feel positive enough to heal. It was an experience, to say the least, to truly face myself and understand how deeply my superficial thoughts of beauty had consumed me. Who was I without the hair and makeup? I was disappointed in myself that these objective perceptions had taken such precedent over my life. To be cliché, the weight off my shoulders has been indescribable. I notice how little long hair matters or how the type mascara I use is absolutely unimportant. What is important to me is my health, my life, and of course the people who have stuck loving me no matter what I look like. These are the things that make me feel beautiful.
I feel the most self-assured I have ever felt. I am so sure at this moment of the intrinsic parts of my person and the traits of my personality that have risen to the surface throughout this battle. The elements of my being that have nothing to do with my appearance, these are the aspects of me that I wish to focus on and work to positively enhance for the rest of my life. My strength, my courage, my perseverance. No longer do I want to spend hours obsessing over trivial things. Sure I still will make in effort in how I dress and will continue to put on makeup, I can't just forget these things and act like society doesn't notice. But it is no longer the focal point of my life and I will not let my appearance rule me.
In the end it is humorous to me that a surgery to change my appearance brought my hidden cancer to my attention, and that this cancer has essentially reversed how I feel about beauty. I am joyful to know I can move forward from this experience and feel one hundred percent confident in how I look without feeling the obsession that consumed me before to be perfect. The pursuit of physical perfection is all consuming and I am so very relieved to be free of it.