Ashes to Epiphany

The first assignment during the “More to Love” (MTL) class was to create a permission slip for how we would approach the next 28 days.  For me, this meant carving time out of day-to-day life to focus only on me.To understand the difficulty of this task, you need to know that I’m really good at over-committing and dedicating time for everyone else. MTL Permission SlipBut, not so good at focusing on myself or prioritizing my needs first. When I put myself first, I always felt guilty. As if I’m not as worthy of attention as the people around me. I know this wasn’t true…but that was my mode of operation.

So I took a deep breath and started the assignment. I used the free  photo editing website (picmonkey.com) that was introduced by the Rachel Estapa, the MTL class founder. This is the result of my first adventure with PicMonkey – a fun and very easy-to-use tool.

The second assignment, titled “The Small, Beautiful Details”, took me an entire day to complete and post. Not because of the complexity of the assignment but because of how it impacted me.  We were asked to describe the parts of our body that we appreciated and found beautiful. Since chemotherapy, I couldn’t think of ANYTHING that I liked let alone something beautiful. So I started the assignment by looking through pictures that were taken both before, during, and after chemo. This is when my body image epiphany occurred…staring back at me from the images on my screen! What follows is the post that I shared with the MTL class…

Day 2 – The Small Beautiful Details:

My favorite parts? Sounds simple enough…but that’s a complicated question for me. And this has been a long day of discovery to find the answer. Please forgive this very long story to share the epiphany that emerged from what I thought were ashes. 

If you had asked me that question a couple of years ago I would have said my favorite features were my hair and breasts. Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my hair. It was curly and had a mind of it’s own. Every day it fell and acted different…  Unfortunately, I tried …and tried… and tried to get it to comply with “the hairstyle of the day” which usually meant something straight.  A lot of work taming the mane only to have it return to the curl with the least bit of humidity.  Early in my adult years, I finally let my hair do “it’s thing”. All Dressed UpAt that moment the clouds parted, sun poured down, and the angels started to sing (insert hallelujah chorus here). Instead of forcing my hair into a style, I let it fall in whatever direction it wanted and then I would just do a little twist here, tuck there, and we were both happy. My hair pulled the attention from my waistline…and always brought me compliments. 

Regardless of the number on the scale, my breasts were a prominent feature. They were such close “friends” that I even gave them nicknames…Lexie and Rachel – not identical twins, but close sisters. Not much else needs to be said about that. Hehehe *blushing*. Today, I don’t feel the same about what were once my favorite features. My battle with breast cancer made sure that my hair and breasts would never be the same.

Chemo took my hair…everywhere…head, eyebrows, lashes, arms, legs…  everywhere! What didn’t fall out was sparse – only a few strands remained. I figured if they were strong enough to survive the chemicals, I was going to let them hang on. It’s been 15 months since the last infusion of the drugs that caused my hair to fall out.

It’s growing but it will be a long time before I know whether it will return to “normal”. Right now the texture, thickness, and length don’t resemble the fond memories that I have of my hair.  The girls… they are but a shadow of their former selves. Multiple surgeries have left scars and lingering pain. They no longer look like sisters…they don’t even look like they belong to the same family.

Every time I glance into a mirror, I am reminded of what once was.

I’m sure it doesn’t seem like I understand the assignment. All I’ve done is tell you what I don’t like about myself. But I needed to work through all of the baggage associated with what I lost before I could open my eyes and realize something amazing. I discovered that the cancer treatments really didn’t take my best features!

As I looked through pictures from before, during, and after treatments, I realized that my most amazing feature was looking back at me.  My face…and all of it’s wonderful parts! My face is the stage where expressions take shape and play out the feelings that well up inside. A canvas of emotion that is ever-changing and on display for the world to see. A window into who I am. And all of my facial parts play a role…eyebrows, eyes, nose, and mouth. Even if you can’t tell where a picture is taken, you can look at my face and see what’s going on inside. (Side note: I am SO thankful for the makeup class that taught me how to draw eyebrows when you have none. After all, every masterpiece needs a good frame.)

Young DorothyMy face has allowed people to see the real me, even from the early years. If you look closely,  you will see that the little girl (young Dorothy) is mad.  She just finished throwing a temper tantrum because she didn’t want her picture taken. The furrowed brows, teary eyes, downturned lips. Her face says it all…quite clearly.

The Happy Couple

On the other hand, adult Dorothy is happy…and in love. She found a man who treats her like the special person that she is. The way she deserves to be treated.

Chemo Hat SparklesAs I looked at the pictures taken during my treatments, one-by-one, I began to realize that it’s all there! Chemo didn’t take the sparkle from my eyes or the smile from my lips.  And chemo didn’t take the expression from my face. It just temporarily changed the playbill to show the story of a woman on a journey to heal. 

Shooting Range

During that time, my face showed pain, fatigue, and frustration. It was sometimes swollen from the drugs but still allowed the “me” inside to be seen. Yes, my face tells the true story of what’s inside, even when I try to pretend otherwise.   

The cancer treatments made me slow down…made me pause for the longest season of my life. BUT the cancer DIDN’T take the “me” inside…the “me” that creates the stories that play out on my face.

Due to several other side effects that I haven’t mentioned, I can’t do a lot of the things that I used to do. Before today I thought that meant the “old me” was gone. But now I realize that the things that I’m missing…the things I can’t do…those things are NOT who I am!

The “me” inside is still the same loving, intelligent, giving, creative, generous, and goofy person that I always was!

And cancer certainly didn’t stop me from putting on an animal hat and acting silly…after all, every theatre needs at least one good prop and an actor willing to risk everything for her audience’s entertainment! Thank you for sharing in my discovery and I hope you enjoy the show!Animal Collage

The next post will share a poem that I created to share how much the class meant to me. Until then, remember to follow your muse!

 

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