One of my pet peeves is when people in the medical profession downplay the importance of looking good after having had cancer. The side effects of treatment are often ignored. Surgery, chemotherapy, and ‘after cancer’ prevention drugs such as Tamoxifen and Arimidex can cause hair loss, early aging, dried out skin, weight gain, vaginal pain, loss of sex drive, early menopause, bone pain, and more.
I often hear women expressing embarrassment because they do still care about how they look, and they hate feeling like they are aging much too early. Sometimes those desires get suppressed or denied. Often those desires are judged as bad and wrong; it is easy to think that they shouldn’t care about their weight, or their breast size, or any of the other challenging after effects of cancer treatment because the ‘real’ issues are believed to be preventing cancer and staying alive only.
In general, I personally have had an amazing and blessed experience in the western medical world, including supportive doctors, great treatment, and dramatically positive results. However, whenever I mention my upset and desire to get help for issues such as weight gain, and hair loss (not temporary chemo hair loss, but permanent loss from the drugs), or other ‘early aging’ symptoms, most of the doctors that I have consulted with shrug their shoulders and have an ‘oh well’ attitude. They often acknowledge that ‘yes, it’s a bummer’, but, the general response is ‘you are alive and that should be enough’.
Well, for me, it is not. I think part of the problem is that up until recently not only was cancer generally a death sentence, but by the time people got it, they were old enough that they didn’t care quite as much about their looks. With people getting cancer at younger and younger ages, and cure rates getting better, many of us live long and healthy lives after having had cancer. And I for one want to look good doing it. I do NOT accept the belief that there is nothing that I or others can do about it.
There is a Facebook status that goes around now and again that demonstrate these beliefs:
‘All of us have a thousand wishes. To be thinner, to be bigger, have more money, have a cool car, a day off, a new phone, to date the person of your dreams. A cancer patient only has one wish, to kick cancer’s ass.’
I get really riled up every time I see this. Once we have had cancer, are our lives supposed to be diminished to this one wish only? Are we suppose to give up our right to wish for being thinner, more beautiful, have passionate relationships, or to live full and healthy lives?
I will not be just a ‘survivor’. I have never let the fact that I had cancer at one time define me. The quality of my life, and being able to live my life fully, matters to me at least as much if not more than the length of my life. I want to stay as healthy and beautiful as possible, not just suffer because I once had cancer. I still have the desire and ability and ‘right’ to be and feel beautiful. I am young, healthy, and vibrant. I want to look as good as I can for as long as I can and feel really great in my body for as long as I can. No apologies.
Vanity? Yes, I am vain, but I love my body too much to just settle for merely being a ‘survivor’.
I encourage everyone going through cancer surgery, treatment or prevention, or anyone who has had cancer in the past, to make no apologies about caring about your looks, or for caring about your overall health, not just the part that includes cancer prevention. I also encourage you to be really assertive and proactive in ensuring that you get the results that you personally want for yourself.
In future articles, I will be discussing the specifics. What CAN you do about choosing the right surgeries, keeping your body healthy, your weight, skin, menopause & sex?