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.
Sundae Colletti says
Just. Wow. Thank you for sharing a part of you.
R.L. Griffin says
Claire- This post is amazing, like you. You show your strength every day. You are a warrior and so strong. You’re beautiful. I couldn’t be more in awe of how you are handling this.
Lisa Ammari says
thank you so much for this post!!!! I have triple negative Invasive Carcinoma and I am going through chemo. You just described how I feel. I have a Joker’s smile on my abdomen too, but from a botched tummy tuck. I find that I look at myself through a filter. If I let how I look sink in, I think I will lose it. Hugs to you!!!!
You are very strong woman Claire!
Angie H says
I have no words. You are a strong, beautiful woman. You have reduced me to tears.
Sandy Roman Borrero says
I get it! I also admit to feeling like Frankenstein myself some days. Then I cling to the thing that matters above all – LIFE! To be around for my daughters I will do whatever I need to do. Lord knows chemo is not for sissies but we’re women and because of that we will endure. We aren’t just the fairer sex, we are the stronger sex. Love ya!
Lauren Blakely says
Love you, you beautiful lady
You are amazing. You are beautiful..and quite frankly, you are SO pretty…that you can rock the bald and look amazing.I’m not gonna lie, this made me cry. I’m actually trying to keep it at bay, and my throat is burning. Your paragraph with your son, just killed me. But he’s right, you’re right. It will grow back and you have life. You have life, a beautiful one at that.
I couldn’t stop my tears reading your words. My sister has a double mastectomy in 2011 and her first words were ” I’m looking like a monster” and no matter how many times I tell her that she needs to be so thankful for this second chance, that she is alive, that they are only fucking tatas, the feeling of ugliness still there. She doesn’t want implants because she can’t deal with more surgeries.She, you, and all survivors are my heroes, and if you allow me, I would love to copy your words and send it to her
After reading this, I was reminded of Hoda Kotb who also had a devastating cancer diagnosis, recovered, but was left with scars. She eventually reveals that now she sees those scars as a good thing and not the devastation to her physical beauty that she originally thought they were. (I’m not doing her comments justice in my summary–they were so much more powerful.) So here I am, pushing 59 and overweight. I’ve had three children by c-section and did not think enough of myself when I was younger to get my healthy under control. As a result, although I exercise and take the best care of myself I can, and find it hard to act my age, I have that flap of stretch marked streaked skin that gets sweaty and itchy right over my c-section scars. I know there is muscle under that skin, but also realize that I may only be able to rid myself of this terrible mess with plastic surgery–which to me at this time in my life may be more vanity than common sense. So I thank you today for your words. You are whole in the best way possible and you shared with all of us. Bless you and your family.
Patricia Lee says
You are truly amazing! Kick cancer’s ass! Hugs <3
Heather Innusa says
As someone who lost her mom to cancer (lung, not breast) 3 years ago, I can just tell you that you WILL be a better version of yourself in spite of all of it including the scars. You won’t be able to help it, you now have this battle under your belt. It can’t help but change you. My mom was a very different person that the woman who was diagnosed 2 years earlier. She was better. She was more whole than she’d ever been. It’s hard to explain. I wish she had more time, or beat it all together, but she used her time wisely. She was better.
You see the world differently now, I’m sure. I haven’t gone through it personally, but being with my mom, caring for her, seeing her everyday, I can’t unsee what I saw. I can’t unfeel what I felt. I know for a fact I’m forever changed because of being with her through it. So your kids may take it hard for now, but this experience will mold them forever. And it’s a good thing.
I remember my mom was very upset about losing her hair – when it started getting thin, she ‘took the power back’ by having me shaving it for her. I think she was putting on a brave face and doing the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ thing, but who cares, it made her feel like she gave it away instead of it being taken.
Anyway, what you just wrote about losing your hair and the scars are feeling she expressed to me. You’re so articulate, I feel like I understand what she was trying to convey better. Thank you for that. I guess I just wanted you to know I understand and I’m so happy you posted this. There is really a lot of healing and power in saying what you’re really dealing with. Owning and admitting it. Accepting and going through it with eyes wide open. Expressing your real feelings. Letting others pray for & encourage you. I wasn’t going to write anything because – who cares what I have to say – but I wanted you to know that I’ll be praying for u girl. This is a beautiful post.
Ursula Cook says
Claire,Thank you for sharing.. You are a remarkable, BEAUTIFUL soul. I have no words, other than I think you are amazing! Thank you for being so open and honest.
P.S. I have an outrageous joker smile c-section scare from my now 2 and almost 5 year old…
Margaret Woodcock says
Wonderfully written. I’ve been in your shoes. I was diagnosed in 2009, at the age of 32 with BC. Had a mastectomy to the left side, 8 rounds of chemo & 30 radiation treatments. I was told after radiation that my only choice was to do the flap surgery, but was not told this up front… In 2010, I found another doctor that was willing to try expanders and proceeded to have a skin – saving mastectomy to the right & expanders to both sides. Left side didn’t work because of radiation, though….In August of 2013, I underwent Tram Flap reconstruction to the left side and am somewhat “whole” again. I didn’t save either nipple, due to them containing duct tissue and my cancer was in my milk ducts… I totally understand the numb feeling, as I have none on the left & little feeling on the right. You are a beautiful person, a survivor, a warrior. Thanks so much for sharing your story.
Nicole Adkins says
You are an amazing woman. Never feel unbeautiful. Because you will always be beautiful. Your an amazing writer and your mind makes you shine brighter than most women ever will. Scars will fade and hair will come back. None of that matters as long as your here alive and well. Keep up the fight you make any woman wish she had your strength. I wish I was half the woman you are.I wish you all the love and support in the world.
When you haven’t gone through something like this, I feel like such an ass saying things like, “be strong” or “you’re such an inspiration” or some other B.S. My truth is that I’ve always felt that my looks we’re defined by my long hair…and I would be devastated to lose it. I had a hairdresser who cut too much off once and I nearly hid under my covers for 9 months. I felt so incredibly unlike myself. I do think I would become someone else––maybe a better version like you said?––without my hair. And it’s not “just hair,” because it’s also time spent with that sweet little munchkin who loves brushing it!
I’m so proud to know you, and to have shared a fancy private lunch at fancy Bal Harbour with fancy models walking around in outfits we can’t afford. Your hair will be fancy again my friend and I can’t wait!! And I will braid it for you. I’m an excellent braider.
There are no words… except I love your honesty. Your brutal, heartfelt, honesty. Had you not shared this, I would have had no idea- about ANY of it. So thank you. Thank you for making this REAL(er). I don’t even miss your hair. I just miss seeing your face. In real life. 🙂
You are truly inspiring! Thank you for being so honest & sharing your story.
i was diagnosed on December 6 2011. My fear was that two daughters 3 & 10 at the time would lose me & vice verse.The hair loss was the most traumatic agreed. I’ve been through 6 months chemo including 2 months of it being intense. Surgery & sentinel lymphnodes removed. 7 week of radiation.
Here I am two years later, in Remission, Smiling & happier than ever to be Alive for my family. Life is seen and lived from a different perspective for me.
God Bless you & keep you Healthy.
Take care ,
From one Warrior to another
Vanessa Rohbock says
thank you for this!!!
Gretchen de la O says
Claire, You are such a strong, loving, beautiful woman. Thank you for this post. Thank you for sharing such a personal, raw, delicate, strong, elegant, vulnerable part of your soul. You are a fighter my sister. A beautiful, beautiful fighter. You are the thing miracles are made of … and that is LOVE! Even in the darkest of times, light will scatter and overtake the dark. You are the light, my dear sweet friend … never forget, you are a mighty moving force in this world, destine to do great things! <3
Claire, what a brave and inspiring post. Thank you for sharing it. Your bravery is beautiful. Keep smiling.
Love you, sweet girl. Happy to see you living your life and carrying on. Life is a beautiful thing.
Melanie Lowery says
Thank you Claire for sharing your story with us through the unimaginable journey. Even though we have never spoken, You are inspirational to us all. <3
Nichole Hart says
Just wanted to say you are a brave and beautiful lady and may God bless you with all the riches of love, family and strength to carry you through. You are more than a number , more than a scar and more than just another name that fought. You are a Woman who showed beauty has nothing to do with image. Beauty comes from the soul.
You are a beautiful women inside and out and your family is very lucky to have you in their lives. You survived and that is all that matters. May God continue to bless you.
Kim Kimball says
Thank you for writing that. I too had breast cancer and a mastectomy. Your story hits close to home. My daughters were 4-years old at the time and they loved my hair as well, but I coped with it pretty well. The girls used to draw on my head with lipstick or washable markers instead of playing with my hair.
I have scars all over as well and they are a reminder of everything I’ve been through. I hated them at first and I still do at times. I see them every damn day. What I see now is that I was stronger than the cancer that tried to kill me. Scars are part of my story. They mean that I am still here for my children.
You are an amazing and beautiful woman. You should be proud of yourself for all you’ve been through and what you have accomplished while going through it. You are a SURVIVOR in every sense of the word. Celebrate it and know that all of us support you and admire you as a person.
Claire, I have not gone through what you have. Regretfully I have a few friends who have. I’ve seen the scar you talk about, it’s not pretty, but I loved that my friend had it, because it meant I still had her. My other friend taught me to never say I’m having a bad hair day. I ABSOLUTLEY hate that you have had to go through this ( that you are going through this). Thank you for sharing and many prayers for you and your family.