How to Honor Your Post-Cancer Body
I remember the exact moment when I saw my body’s reflection in the mirror after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was the morning after the doctor had delivered that crushing diagnosis, and I took a moment after my shower and gave my body a good long look in the full-length mirror.
In the past, my eyes would immediately go to my dimpled thighs, dart over to the bump in my lower belly, and then the self-sabotaging talk would start. Your legs would look better if you ran six miles instead of three. Your tummy would be flatter if you hadn’t eaten that pizza last night. So much mean self-talk!
I felt like a fool. A fool who didn’t appreciate the body I had. This was the same body that had birthed three children and produced enough milk to feed each of them for the first year of their lives. It was the same body that had run half marathons. And now, this same body was going to go through the cancer journey and find her health again.
I realized at that moment it was time to show her some appreciation and care. Cancer was my opportunity to give my body the love she so desperately desired. But I knew I couldn’t do it without some new rituals and thought patterns.
Here’s what I did:
1. I decided to love my body as it was.
I made the decision to start loving my body exactly as she was in each moment. If there was ever a time to show myself some love, healing from cancer was it. My body needed all the positive reinforcement she could get. So instead of focusing on the negative side effects of breast surgery, I gave myself permission to embrace my swollen breasts and feel sexy. I lovingly applied lotion to my scars knowing they were healing physically and mentally. I stopped picking apart my body parts and guided my thoughts back to gratitude for what my body had done for me. When my mind crept back to the bad parts, I would gently guide it back to pleasure. And I remembered that my body deserves pleasure.
2. I surrounded myself with things that raised me up.
I decided to give my body what she really wanted. I realized I needed to put myself first and started doing things that made me and my body feel energized. I was honest with myself about consuming foods that my body liked. I would constantly check in with myself, did my belly feel full? I avoided foods that caused bloating or made me feel overly full. Besides consuming good foods, I consumed comedies too. Watching funny shows helped raise my feel-good endorphins, and humor was a big part of my feeling better in my skin. It’s hard to think mean thoughts while you are laughing!
3. I incorporated pleasure into everything I did.
Finally (and maybe the most important), with all the “bad things” that happen while undergoing cancer treatments, I made sure that my body also felt pleasure. After every chemo treatment, I would stop and get a massage. I wanted my body to remember what good touch felt like, not just the poking and prodding of medical procedures. The massage was an opportunity for my body to relax and do what it needed to in order to heal. I also found pleasure in small things like cooking a meal with my family, snuggling under blankets while watching a movie, or laughing with my kids. I learned to say no to the things I didn’t want to do and yes to the activities that made me feel happy. I started saying yes to sex more because I fully understood that my body deserved to feel really good. I would seize the opportunity to feel pleasure because I couldn’t predict how I was going to feel later that day or even tomorrow. Lesson learned: I stopped delaying pleasure and starting experiencing it more often in the now.
And that’s how all women should feel all the time. Don’t wait like I did; let yourself feel good today. What’s one way you can show your body more love and affection? Don’t wait for pleasure to come to you. Go out there and get it.
Christine Egan is an eight-year breast cancer thriver and author of The Healthy Girls Guide to Breast Cancer, who has dedicated her life to helping cancer survivors heal their bodies post-treatment. Egan recently launched an already sold-out 8-week workshop titled “Life After Cancer: How to Live Your Life Fully After A Diagnosis”, which takes place in her hometown on Long Island.