Now you might think I would have been slightly insulted by her reaction but I wasn’t at all upset…
and here’s why…
She wasn’t crying because she thought I looked like a tube of toothpaste squeezed in the middle…
She wasn’t crying because she was worried that I would have to sit on a public beach under a “whale on the beach” sign…
She was crying because I was actually comfortable enough with my “new” body that I could model a bathing suit.
You see, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. After having a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, I went through the most physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually challenging two years of my entire life. In fact the first time I saw myself after surgery, I wondered if I would ever dare to wear a bathing suit again.
We place a lot of stress on ourselves as women and mothers. We buy into the commercials that say we must look a certain way, or be a certain weight, or keep house like Martha Stewart. If the picture gets skewed at home, meaning we can’t measure up to these perfect ideals, we put huge guilt trips on ourselves and we add more stress onto ourselves as we attempt to change into what we believe is the image of perfection. It is no wonder that we have no “peace” in our lives if we are never really satisfied with how we look, where we live, or how we act. I’ve actually coined a phrase that describes this: Superwoman Syndrome.
We try to be everything, do everything, attempt everything so we can measure up to this perfect standard the world has somehow created. In my house, shortly before my cancer diagnosis, I signed my kids up for soccer, hockey, piano, skating, choir, and anything else that everybody else was doing because I did not want my kids to be left out of all these opportunities! So while my children were benefiting from all these activities I was taxi-ing them all over the place, and we were eating fast foods because there was no time to cook. A fact that made me even more guilty. My house hadn’t been cleaned in weeks because I’d been standing on the sidelines of some soccer field cheering on my child rather than on my knees washing a floor at home. And even though it was great to do these things with my kids I always had this twinge of guilt that my house was a huge disaster area.
Then of course there were job commitments back then. I was a seminary student, I worked on staff at my church and being a wife, mother, student, writer, etc. I barely could find ten minutes of good quality time with my husband a day, let alone spend any quiet time with God.
Then of course there was the outer me. (I’ll admit I still feel this way…) I can’t leave the house without my hair looking just so, and my makeup on…
Oh… and I forgot to do the laundry, and the dog needed to be fed, and I hadn’t watered my plants, or picked up the dry cleaning; one child needed a button sewed on, and another child was having a social crisis, and then there were blogs to write, books to edit, etc., etc., etc….
Do you get the picture?
Psychologists will tell you that many of their women clients are counseled primarily because they have a deep dissatisfaction with their bodies, and they harbour so much guilt because they do not measure up to what they believe is the perfect woman or the perfect Mom. In the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary there is a whole psycho-social department geared towards women who have gone through breast cancer…why?…because women who suffer from breast cancer are radically changed, outwardly because of surgery, and inwardly as they try to cope with their disfigurement and the disease itself. They no longer feel they are a complete woman, and they struggle trying to come to grips with not being the perfect picture of a woman anymore. Not to mention the fear that accompanies the knowledge that you have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
One of the Fruits of the Spirit is Peace. The peace that is spoken of here is not necessarily the peace that comes by controlling warring factions in Iraq or stepping between two battling siblings, or quieting a colicky child. The peace of the Spirit is something that is referred to as a “peace that surpasses understanding.” It could be considered a peace that cannot be easily defined because it defies explanation. There is a difference between being peaceful and having inner peace. You can attain a peaceful state by calming down your hectic pace, pampering yourself, reading or doing things that make you feel good. But an inner peace comes with the knowledge that we are made in the image of God and God has created this beautiful world and He is a God who is in control of everything and everything He has made is good. It is a state of mind that allows ourselves to let go of our circumstances, release our cares and rely solely on God.
My life verse is: “In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
It took nearly a year for me to fully grasp that truth. It was a year where I came to understand what it meant to have a “peace that surpasses understanding”. I gradually developed a quiet acceptance of my new body image. Of course I would have liked to never have experienced cancer, but God allowed me to go through the experience and if I believed He had a plan and a purpose for my life, I also had to believe He had a plan and a purpose behind my getting cancer.
The incredible opportunities I have been presented with since cancer have testified to God’s faithfulness. I have a peace about my circumstances. It doesn’t mean I totally understand why things happen the way they do but I’m OK with it.
Do I still struggle with trying to be Superwoman? Yes, but now I don’t beat myself up about it when the house is a dust bowl or we’ve lived on fast food a couple of nights a week. I enjoy life more. I see life differently and I am amazed more by ordinary things.
I can honestly say that I am no longer so self-absorbed with the “outer” me. That’s not to say that I neglect the outer me, after all I did go through reconstructive surgery in 2002 and although my body image will never be what it once was I am so thankful to be a breast cancer survivor and present to you…the new and slightly improved “me”. I even laugh at my bad hair days because at least I have hair to have bad hair days!
I know as women we get caught up by how we look and with our outward appearances, but today I would like to challenge you to spend as much time on the inner you as you do on the outer you. I want you to celebrate YOU today. Today when you look in the mirror, don’t look at the little flaws, or the extra pounds, or the onslaught of aging. Try to see yourself as God sees you, precious in His sight. Today pamper the outer you, consider how you will pamper the inner you. A friend sent me this wonderful poem while I was battling cancer.
There is a Place By: Val Conner
There is a place where acceptance is found,
a place of peace and contentment
Where fears subside
And smiles of hope exist
Where warm embraces have long since replaced cold shoulders
And I can be me.
There is a place where freedom of expression is welcomed
Where “sincerely” describes a life lived honorably
And not merely impotent words penned at the end of a letter
Where the distance between opposing views
Is measured for it’s diversity, not measured by its intensity
And I can be me.
There is a place where one’s value is based on “Whose” you are, not “whom” you are
Where the barometer of success is gauged by the attitude of one’s heart
Not the platitudes of one’s performances
Where life is valued because it is a gift –
Regardless of gender, race or geography
And I can be me.
There is a place where beauty lies not in the eyes of the behold’en, but solely in the eyes of the Begotten
Where one’s spirit describes the splendor of one’s presence, and the measure of one’s age is the compilation of past memories – not years passed
Where the shaping of one’s mind is
More important than mindings one’s shape
And I can be me.
This place I long to be –
Where the law of the jungle is but a fable,
Where darkness finds no place in which to cower,
Where we are not merely acceptable in His sight –
We are the accepted by His side.
Where joyful todays are always followed by joyous tomorrows –
And tomorrows are forever,
“There” is the place I want to be –
But not just yet.
For now, I choose to dwell here;
To fulfill the purpose He has chosen for me.
To be a refuge and a reminder
For people – like me –
Of His Peace
And of their
To touch every soul I can,
As if it were His touching mine,
And to willingly follow Him down the road He has selected me to travel.
For here – in this place –
I am ever mindful that as I place my hand in His
I am learning that I am exactly where
I can be me.