Editor’s Note – Content Warning: Eating Disorders, Diet Culture, Medical Trauma
As I write this letter, I’m imagining you standing in front of your mirror at 16 years old, only a few months past finishing chemo and radiation. It’s around 2:00 p.m., you’re contorting your body in a way that makes you appear as thin as possible for a selfie, and all you’ve had to eat today is a bowl of plain oatmeal with blueberries because you are terrified of any food that isn’t considered “clean.”
At this point you’ve been told how “beautiful” you are after radiation.
You’ve been told:
“I wish I could lose weight like that!”
“Radiation is the best diet!”
“You look AMAZING in your new clothes!”
Today, I am telling you that your beauty has never fluctuated as your weight did on the scale and that your worth is not based on what you look like.
I am telling you that you deserve nourishment and nourishment can be something that fuels your body and spirit.
I am telling you that those who compare your radiation to being a diet are minimizing your pain and experience.
I am telling you that there is nothing great about what you just went through and there is nothing beautiful about what your body just endured.
I am telling you clothes are made for your body size — your body size is not made for clothes.
Today, I am sitting with you in all of the feelings that you haven’t been given the space or time to work through.
As the flood of validation comes through on your posted selfie, you are feeling the most confident in your body’s appearance than you ever have before and yet you are still saying to yourself, “I am almost there. I am almost at my goal.”
And as the days go on, no matter how thin you continue to become, you still say, “I am almost there. I am almost at my goal.”
You continue this narrative until you are with your family on vacation in Ohio, crying in the cabin bathroom, absolutely mortified by the idea of eating a cheeseburger for dinner and having no private way of purging.
This is the day one person will notice you’re not okay…
and this person will be you.
On this day you will realize that the one aspect of your life and body you believe you have control over has actually taken control of you.
This will be the beginning of a very hard recovery. This will be slamming the door on this chapter of your journey. This will be demolishing the walls you’ve built around yourself and starting a new foundation.
I am so proud of you.
The way you feel about yourself right now is not your fault. Recovery is lifelong. All the ways you are reaching for some form of control over your own body and life is survival.This is your survivorship and it does not feel like the purple ribbon wrapped gift of a “second chance at life” like the toxic positive garbage you’ve been fed. This is hard and everything you are processing is real.
The cancer does not end with remission. You will continue to face hardship. Residual medical conditions and side effects will continue to arise from the radiation and chemotherapy. It will be frustrating, annoying, defeating, and all the other bad things.
You will acknowledge these feelings and you will grieve the loss of your body and energy before cancer.
You will learn to honor the new. You will stop asking, “Why can’t I do this anymore?” And you will start asking, “What can I do differently?”
You will stop comparing yourself to your peers, who haven’t faced this disease.
You will give yourself grace.
You will allow yourself rest.
You will heal.
Your strength is not rooted in your diagnosis or survival of cancer. Your strength is rooted in your resilience of all that came before, during, and after.
And not only will you survive this chapter of your life, you will be thriving by the time you write yourself this letter.
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/.