Twelve years ago my body changed. Twelve years ago today I was in surgery for eleven hours as I underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction in the same day.
I often joke that on September 11th, 2006 my twin towers fell. That joke doesn’t feel right today. Seventeen years ago today something horrible happened in our country and I don’t want to disrespect the lives that were lost and the horrors that occurred, the children that lost parents, the men and women who lost spouses, loved ones and friends.
September 11th has always been an emotional day for me. I wake up on that day introspective and pensive, while also grateful – immensely grateful for my life and my health, for the talented doctors and nurses who cared for me and took that ugly breast cancer out of me. September 11th is a day I’ve always allowed myself to feel whatever I need to feel.
I realized recently that part of the reason it has always been a hard day was because I felt broken and damaged. I now have two bags of plastic with flowers tattooed on them in place of breasts. I realize that part of the sadness that always accompanied this day was a feeling of being trapped. Trapped in the thoughts that my body was unlovable because it was significantly altered.
When I underwent my surgery I was married, my husband – this is one thing I’ll give him credit for – was a trooper through the entire ordeal. He reassured me that I was beautiful and he loved my body, he even shaved his head with me when I lost my hair. For a woman, losing my breasts was directly tied to my feelings of femininity. They were one of the major body parts that made me feel like a woman. To lose them created ripples in my sense of self that kept me in my marriage for much too long because of the fear of being undesirable. The marriage I was in was dysfunctional, yes…but it was predictable and he already knew the scars, the journey I’d been on and the body modifications.
I realize now, in hindsight that I felt trapped, unsure if I left the marriage if anyone would ever love me again. Would a man recoil in horror at the huge scars on my chest? The fear was pretty staggering and even though I was dissatisfied in my marriage I felt hopeless to end it, partly because I was so scared that I would never be desired or wanted by another man. I wrote about it in another very honest, graphically over-sharing blog post. Thanks a lot, cancer….you’re a dick.
So imagine my shock when I suddenly realized that today was September 11th and I’d not given my personal surgical anniversary a single thought. When I did give it some thought, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have a whole lot of feelings about it. I just kind of looked at the calendar, shrugged my shoulders and said “huh, look at that…it’s September 11th” and turned away. No great pensive moment of sadness or grief. Just acknowledgement that it was another milestone. Twelve years. Go me!
There is also a newfound feeling of freedom. I’m not scared anymore. It’s been proven that I’m still lovable, still attractive, still wanted as a woman even though I happen to carry a couple hundred cc’s of silicon on my upper chest region. I’m still desired and sexy and the beautiful lotus flower tattoos I have on my reconstructed breasts just add to the beauty and that my strength is attractive. I’ve crossed that bridge of fear and have landed on the other side with a greater self confidence.
I think I’ve finally come to the end of the grieving process of cancer. I feel like I’ve finally beaten it fully. My type of cancer was triple negative – not fed by hormones, proteins or gene mutation. They have no idea what caused my cancer – but the good news is with my type of cancer, after five years with no reoccurrence I am considered “Statistically Cured”.
I stand here proudly, twelve years later and flip two middle fingers at cancer, body dysmorphia and negative feelings about my body. I’ve beaten you. You no longer own me. You no longer have control over me. You no longer limit my future.
It’s a beautiful day to remember our strength as Americans. It’s a beautiful day to honor our country and it’s resilience. It’s a beautiful day to be grateful and respectful of today’s significance. It’s just a beautiful day….even if it rains all day.