Monday, April 18, 2011

The Power of Beauty, Time and Perspective

Do I love you because you're beautiful,
Or are you beautiful because I love you?
~Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Cinderella

I have always been a sun worshiper. I have reveled in the summer months. I've spent countless hours at the beach, allowing my feet to tickle their way through the top layer of hot, silky sand down to the cooler, submersed floor below, as if they had a mind of their own searching for buried treasure. Every poolside beckoned me and I used to spend immeasurable moments reading, laughing and talking before inching my way into the water. I've loved being on boats, and feeling the wind upon my face. I've even just happily wallowed in sunshine in my own yard,  gently rocking in the hammock, one foot trailing on the ground.

This love aside, something has obviously changed greatly for me: the way I look. I am thankful for the DNA that blessed me with a somewhat pleasant appearance. I never needed to make major changes or have dramatic makeovers. I was always self-conscious about my thighs, but then again, so are many women. I am one of those people, however, that genuinely enjoys eating healthfully and exercising, so staying in shape was second nature to me. The passage of time made its way across my face, but I was thankful for that allowed me to see the lessons I've learned. My "smile lines" were even a badge of honor, showing others that I had laughed far more than I had cried.

Following this most recent cancer surgery, my body has been left damaged. My scars are evident. My body's defense against this invasiveness of the surgery was to send "helper cells" to different spots around the trauma, leaving me with pronounced, but highly uneven, puffiness. I lost approximately 1/3 of my lower abdominal muscle, in which the malignant tumor has insinuated itself. One would think that this would make me concave. But, instead, it's as if the area is in rebellion at losing part of itself. My face is changed...more tired, older, careworn. My hair, still short from the biopsy, gave me nothing to 'hide behind'. My confidence in my appearance is at an all time low. I remain thankful at being here, but fearful and exhausted.

I had resigned myself to spending the rest of my life in "modest mom" bathing suits...the kind you'd see on older ladies who also sport flowered bathing caps. Both my own mother and my teenage daughter encouraged me not to change the way I approach my love of sunshine. They insisted I wear the same bathing suits I've always worn, and that, should I hide myself away in layers of spandex, it's as if the cancer has won regardless of my surgery's outcome. While in Arizona in March, I blissfully sat out by my mom's one seeing me but family. It was heavenly to feel the sun on my skin after such a long winter of pain, recovery and fear. I was slightly encouraged in the way I looked, and just that hint of a tan I gained made me feel much more like the 'old me'. 

So, bikini packed, I headed to Florida last week. My son was moving out of his apartment and getting ready to head home for the summer. I flew down to help him get everything organized and settled. In between trips to the UPS store and phone calls to the movers, I did have a couple of blessed afternoons by the hotel pool. For the first time since my surgery, I sat out in a bikini in front of strangers. 

Friends, it did not go well. There was a 20-something couple, drinks in hand, who saw me walk by as I neared the pool steps and snickered at me behind their hands. They'd look up and laugh a little more. This hurt me tremendously. My face flushed with shame and all my insecurities came rushing back, hurtling like a runaway stagecoach. My urge was to flee and hide indoors. Who was I kidding? I looked like a Frankenstein-ian experiment gone horribly wrong. I am a 45 year old lusus naturae. What was I thinking, wearing a bikini? And then, just before I grabbed my towel and ran for the safety of the pool house, I stopped. I took a couple of deep, measured breaths. Then I continued on my journey towards the pool steps. But, before I walked into the water, I turned and looked at the very young, very foolish pair who were laughing, and said, "Beautiful day, isn't it?".

And so it was.