Gratitude and Acceptance After Cancer (Guest Blog Post)

by Beaming with Health on August 26, 2013

598611_10151364235498521_136872775_nI am very excited to introduce our guest blogger for this post, Vanessa Sacks. When I met her, I was instantly impressed. I admired her positivity, her confidence, and her gratitude for life. There is one line in particular that really caused me to perk up when she said it. I am paraphrasing here, but she said something like ” I love my body and I don’t want it to change”. This was particularly notable to me because I feel that nowadays so many women (including myself at times) do not have a strong appreciation for their bodies. We are constantly beating ourselves up, being overly critical, and are not grateful for what we have. After talking with Vanessa, I just knew I wanted her to share her story and inspire others. I know I have a newfound gratitude for my body after seeing things through her perspective. I hope you will be inspired too! Thank you Vanessa for sharing your very powerful story!

Cancer taught me to love my body. It sounds odd, but it’s true. Obviously I would’ve preferred not to go through the whole ordeal, but I had no choice in that situation, and I came through it with some positive insights about self-image, strength, and gratitude.
Let’s take a trip back to the mid-80’s (cue Duran Duran, visualize the spandex and off-the-shoulder t-shirts, and if you’re lucky, I’ll share old photos of my mouse’d up, Long Island hair). I was so young at this point, yet already I wanted to be pretty. I recall how impactful social media was from the get-go. Hell, even the cool, rebellious girls in my favorite John Hughes films were slender and gorgeous. Also, my beautiful mom was always on some sort of diet, so the importance of being attractive was reinforced at home as well.

Not surprisingly, I started to compare myself and my body to those of other girls at a very young age. I never wanted to be seen naked. My upper and lower jaws did not match up, an issue that caused constant pain, and for which I had to have braces twice, and reconstructive surgery. I frequently told myself that I was unpretty, on top of not being thin enough. In high-school I didn’t let myself eat when I was hungry. I even made a game out of it sometimes.

Years passed and I definitely found things to love about my body (it could dance all night, build things, run, paint a house, bend into a yoga pose), but overall, I remained in fix-it mode: wax this, tone that, dye my hair, improve my skin …it’s a long list. I always felt like I was almost there. Where is “there? When do you know that you’ve made it to that land of unicorns and magic? It never mattered when friends or significant others assured me that I looked great. I didn’t hear them at all, distracted by a combination of body dysmorphia, self-hatred, and ego.

So this went on for many years, until I turned 29, and received a diagnosis of Stage II ovarian cancer. Imagine the huge record-skip: I felt like the party of life was officially over for me. Before I even realized what was happening, I’d dropped out of grad school, had major invasive surgery, and switched from vodka drinks to chemotherapy cocktails.  I spent the next 6 months fighting to stay alive. Obviously words can’t adequately express what occurred during this time. None of the anti-nausea meds worked, so I lost too much weight, experienced orthostatic-hypotension, and vomited and blacked out frequently. These weren’t the worst of the side effects, but I can’t go there right now.

In retrospect I’m aware of my extreme good luck: I am alive and keenly aware of this fact every single day. Also, as horrible as my experience was, 6 months is not a long time to battle cancer. People fight for years, and people die, and that’s not news to anybody.

But how does all this relate to body image? I was given the exciting label of remission a few months prior to my 30th birthday. Healing up was not easy, plus the experience of fighting a potentially fatal disease changed me irrevocably. I was unable to relate to many friends, not to mention the world around me. I logged in painful hours of strength-building to teach my abdominal muscles to hold me up properly. I have permanent lung damage from one of the chemo medicines, plus permanent nerve damage in my hands and feet, not to mention chemical burns all over my torso (chemo burns you from the inside out) and a scar bisecting my entire abdomen. My hair is half as thick as it used to be. Etc, Etc.

Despite all of this, or probably because of it, I finally love my body. I’m alive, I can breathe on my own, I can walk, jump, and downward-dog unassisted. I can carry heavy things and change the brakes on my car. I feel like a badass! For me, the path to self-love (and trust me, it’s an ongoing journey, I’m not completely there yet) is bordered by gratitude and delight. I am so thankful to be here. I fought hard for the opportunity to live, and I got it, which humbles me beyond belief. I recently purchased my first bikini at the age of 35, and I love it! I feel confident because my strong lungs carry me to the sea and help me swim in the ocean. Nobody can tell me that I am not beautiful and strong, and honestly, I wouldn’t care if they did.

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John Torres August 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

Great post! And thank you for sharing… :-)

Why is it that we are our worst critic? Has it come to the point that we need a life changing personal experience to change our own lives? I hope we can learn from yours. :-)

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Beaming with Health August 28, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Hi John! Thanks for checking out this post! It is true, we are SO hard on ourselves. It often takes something to jolt us into change, but inspiration people are also very helpful in inspiring change. It is great to see role models like Vanessa!

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John Torres August 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm

So true!

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