I lay next to another human, warm and comfortable and was filled with a wave of gratitude. Lovingly touched by someone who deeply cared for me. My heart felt like it would explode with happiness.
I grew up very modest and conservative. Never showing any cleavage, wearing pants, or even a sleeveless top. Cue cancer. Suddenly doctors were touching me all over. Lymph nodes in my groin, palpitations in my stomach, and breast examines were the norm. Every medical professional always apologized for their cold hands, and were as respectful as possible, but my sense of privacy and modesty were forever shattered. I remember the EKG tech who sensed my discomfort and tried to keep the gown on top of my body as she squished my boobs while imaging my heart. I was grateful for her attempt.
The worst was radiation though. I received extensive radiation through my trunk, from my chin to my hips. And while I always entered the room in an ill-fitting hospital gown, it didn’t stay on long. As soon as I lay down on the cold, hard radiation slab, the techs instantly would open my gown, exposing me to the world it felt like. I felt so cold, exposed, and alone. I’d always try to shift myself or a bit of my gown to feel less naked, but would sternly be reprimanded to be perfectly still. It was bad enough when there were other women around, but the main tech, actually a very gracious person, was a younger man. I always felt so humiliated lying there- perfectly still, forced to let him open my gown and align my body. To this day, there are the little black dots on my breasts and stomach from the radiation alignment markers. Each time I see them, I’m reminded of that cold slab and the my teenage self’s shattered privacy and any sense of modesty. While there was and is and should be no shame, I felt shameful. I had always been such a modest and conservative person, that having medical professionals see my body felt unnatural to me.
But with the addition of a S.O., I’ve been slowly working on replacing the only memories of my body ever being exposed to anyone. I’m no longer lying exposed, cold and alone in a hospital basement. I’m warm and held, wrapped up in strong arms and a blanket. I’m being touched gently and with love, to bring enjoyment, not lessen pain. The little black dots I see with shame, disgust, and sadness are not even considered in his eyes. The stretch marks on the stomach rolls I detest are often held and caressed by him. I’ve never loved my body. I’ve hated it for how it has changed through cancer. But seeing someone who loves me and my body is finally allowing me to replace the repulsion and shame of being touched by cold, clinical hands with enjoyment at being caressed by the man I love.
I know everyone has a different body relationship. But I’m fairly confident all of us YA have felt the invasion and ultimate loss of privacy during cancer. It’s hard, and it doesn’t go away easily. But I hope every single one of you can find a small bit of happiness to replace those memories.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.