I never considered myself a vain person before all of this. I was always the girl who dressed however she wanted, whenever she wanted. Some days I woke up and wore a dress and make up, but most days I wore jeans, a superhero t-shirt and my hair up in a bun. I’d never really thought about the way I looked, because quite frankly, I didn’t care. I know who I am, I don’t need anybody’s approval and never really cared about what they thought of me when they looked at me.
When I first diagnosed, the first thing I thought about was my hair. My 3 year old is obsessed with my hair. He used to get excited when I got out of the shower and ask me if I washed it for him (he loves water, so wet hair = happy kid). He would brush it every single night. “Mommy, your hair is so beautiful. You look like a princess.” Every night. So the thought of losing my hair broke my heart, not really because of how I would look without it, but because I was finally afraid to know how other people saw me, and those people were my kids. I mourned my hair loss way before it even happened. I prayed over it. I cried over it. It was ridiculous, really. “It’s just hair,” I would tell myself over and over, as if I needed the reminder. Every night when my son brushed my hair I would stand him in front of me and say, “Mommy’s going to lose her hair soon, but it’ll grow back, okay?” and every night he whined and asked why. “I don’t want you to lose your hair!” “Neither do I. Neither do I.” It was like this for two months. My five year old was a little bit more accepting and would remind us both that it would grow back. I guess you can accept the idea of anything though, until it actually happens.
A couple of days after my son’s 5th birthday, I had my double mastectomy. This was what I was preparing for: they would perform something called a flap surgery, where they open up my abdomen and take fat from there to make my breasts after the mastectomy. I would have breasts, but instead of implants it would be my own fat. This meant I got to keep my nipples, which was important to me at the time. I think when something keeps taking, taking, taking, you kind of cling on to anything you can actually keep and my nipples fell into that category. “Think of it like a C-section,” they said. I never had a C-section, but I knew enough people who had and I’d seen enough scars to know it wouldn’t be too bad…
On May 7th, the day after the surgery, when they uncovered me to look at the four drains hanging out of me (two on my hips and two up top. One on each side, by my breasts), I saw the scars. It was nothing like my C-section friends. My scar goes from one hip to the other, think of the Joker’s smile, that’s what I have on my abdomen. My breasts have different color patches from the surgery (I still need to finish the reconstruction, and when I do, they will be “normal” again). You know all of those “save the tatas” things? I loathe them. I LOATHE seeing that. It makes me so angry. Nobody saves your “tatas”. If you have a mastectomy, your “tatas” are gone forever. FOREVER. When my reconstruction is finished, I’ll look great, I’m sure, but I will never regain feeling on my nipples. They’re just there for decoration, I guess. I can’t feel my breasts at all. They feel the way your mouth feels when you go to the dentist and they numb your gums. You know your gums are there, but when you poke at your mouth you have no feeling.
Some days, right before I jump in the shower, I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself and even though I’ve never been a vein person, the sight in front of me is hard to swallow. I look like Frankenstein’s Monster’s love child, with all the scars and disproportions. Add the bald head and no eyebrows, and well… it’s something I wouldn’t wish on any woman. Every day I have to stand there and let my eyes wander over my body and remind myself that I am beautiful. I have my eyes, and my hands, and my mind, and most importantly I have life.
For a while I wasn’t comfortable going out without something to cover my head because I didn’t want to get “those looks”, the sympathetic ones people offer when they don’t know what else to do when they see you. It was hard for me to look at myself and accept that this was me. This was the woman who at some point made some heads turn for a different reason. One day I decided “fuck it, I don’t care anymore”. It’s not like I chose to be bald, and even if I had, what the hell does anybody else care? This disease forces you to see yourself for something other than just beautiful or just smart, or just funny, or just… anything. It makes you dig deep and find that ounce of strength you really didn’t think you had, and cling on to it. And I guess that’s one of the things I’ve learned. We’re not “just” something. We ARE something. We are a LOT of things, and none of them are ugly. You can always find at least one thing that makes you beautiful, and sometimes one thing is enough.
Soon my hair will grow back and my breasts will look great again, but I will always have the scar of the Joker’s smile on my abdomen. For the rest of my life when I look in the mirror I will see it. The memory of the way I look now, all scarred up and bald will flash before my eyes, and I will smile and know that beauty isn’t what I see when I look in the mirror because I’ll look completely different than I do now, but I’ll still be the same person. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a better version of myself, but I know that whatever I’ll see won’t matter, because what you see isn’t as important as how you feel.