When I was diagnosed with cancer I never expected that the physical changes I experienced would be so soul-destroying. There have been days where I’ve struggled to even look at myself in the mirror, but I’m finally at a place where I can say that I have incurable cancer, and I’m rocking it.
Let me take you back to the 1 April 2016. It’s a day I will never forget; the day of my diagnosis. When the doctor told me, I was flooded with shock, fear and disbelief. It felt like a nightmare that I couldn’t get out of. Cancer was something that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend; my world had been turned upside down in a single moment.
At first, people thought that by offering me hope, they were helping. They came out with all the old clichés; “stay positive,” “take one day at a time,” “you can beat this,’ “I know someone who had what you have and they are ok now.” People even would say “but you look so well,” as if that meant that I couldn’t possibly have cancer. As much as I knew that them saying these things was more for them than for me, I just wanted to scream “THIS ISN’T GOING TO BE OK.”
I’ve been forced to live in a world of the unknown, the unpredictable, a scary world with a new language and endless medical appointments. Cancer is a life changer, or should I say arsehole. It’s taken a long time, and lots of counselling, but I’ve now come to terms with the fact that this cancer will kill me. What I still struggle with is the way it has tried to strip me of my identity at the same time.
If the chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and treatment isn’t enough to drive you bonkers, on top of that you have to deal with the fact that your body changes completely too. I lost the hair not only from my head but also my eyebrows, eyelashes, leg and arm hair. As a woman, my hair feels like a big part of my femininity, so that was incredibly hard to deal with.
I remember seeing my reflection and thinking I looked just like a boiled egg. My skin was pale, there were dark shadows under my eyes from fatigue and I had no hair or eyebrows. I didn’t recognise the person in the mirror and it felt like I’d lost my identity. But my friends couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much. From their point of view I should just be worrying about my health. Sure, I was grateful to be alive, but I wanted to look like me, not a ‘cancer patient’.
When I look ‘good’ I feel ‘good’ and that’s never truer than when I’m dealing with the body issues related to my cancer treatment. Everything has such an impact on your self-confidence. For me, personally, putting make-up on, drawing on my eyebrows, adding some colour to my cheeks – it all gives a much-needed boost and helped me to feel better about myself. People say feeling beautiful comes from within us and whilst that’s true, in order to feel beautiful on the inside, I need, desperately, to feel beautiful on the outside.
I now have a body full of scars and stoma (I call it my ‘bag for life’) hanging off of my tummy. When I’m dressed no one can see them, but I know they’re there. Sometimes that makes me feel insecure about who I am, other days I can truly embrace everything I have endured, with a huge smile and a happy laugh. And of course, the bonus is that I can have a pee standing up!
To anyone going through treatment and feeling lost, alone and feeling like their confidence is being shattered into a thousand pieces, please hang on to you. Do the things that you need to do to make you feel good. If that a bit of lippy and drawing on your eyebrows then so be it. Never lose sight of who you are.
Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors and Information Pharmacists can be found in many Boots stores, to help people feel more like themselves again. To find out more, click here