Monday, January 15, 2007

How To Love A Traitor

Zuzu has a recent post up at Feministe titled Wonderful, Glorious Me in which she issues an interesting challenge:

We’re conditioned, particularly as women, to be self-deprecating, to not take up space, to not revel in our bodies and ourselves. We can get 150 comments in a thread about when we realized that we were aware our bodies weren’t up to snuff; let’s see how many we can generate praising ourselves.

Your mission: list at least five things you love about your body and yourself. Five is the floor; you can always do more. And no self-deprecation! No offsetting a compliment with a dig.

As I read through the lists people posted in the comments, I couldn't help but notice how many women said they loved their bodies because they're strong and healthy and sexually attractive. They love things like their lovely mouths, their hour glass figures, their beautiful breasts, their adorable curves, their perfect posture, their strong legs, their awesome hair. They love being able to run marathons and climb mountains and be great in bed.

And I couldn't help but wonder: what if they didn't have these things any more? What would happen to that love if their youth and health and vitality went away? Would they still find something to love? What will happen to them if the day ever comes when their hair falls out, their breast are cut off or wither from age, their bodies grow old or sick, their faces or limbs are maimed and disfigured? Will they find a way to go on loving bodies that have broken down and betrayed them?

Will I?

A year ago, coming up with five lovable traits about my own body would have been a piece of cake for me. I was strong and healthy, sexy, athletic, graceful and able, and my body was a fabulous source of pleasure to me.

Now my body is no longer strong or healthy. I have no hair, my muscles are weak and shriveled, my skin is mottled and my face swollen up like the moon. My spine is twisted and collapsing; I have a hideous protruding chemo port surgically implanted in my chest wall. I'm itchy and bloated, I soak the bed with night sweats, my brain is slow and depressed. My body isn't even capable of feeling much pleasure these days. It's mostly just a source of pain and nausea and bone grinding fatigue. On top of all that, it causes me constant anxiety: every little ache or cough or swelling might be the cancer spreading somewhere else. My body has become unreliable, untrustworthy, endlessly worrisome.

For 52 years I took such good care of my body, and then one day it turned against me. What can I possibly find to love about it now? I'm sorry, but I honestly can't come up with five things.

But I can come up with one thing that I love about my body today, and it's this: I love my body just because, against all odds, it's still alive. It's hanging in there, kicking and screaming, surviving the cancer and enduring the chemotherapy. And in spite of being under full-blown attack, it still manages to muster the resources to take care of trivial domestic incidents like healing a cut or preventing a cold. My body has suffered so much damage and pain in the last six months, yet it's never given up. Plenty of times my mind has given up, my soul has given up, my broken spirit has wanted to throw in the towel and quit. But my body has steadfastly refused to stop living. It just kept on going, and dragged the rest of me along with it.

And today, for that, I love it.


Blogger Ya Looblue said...

right on Liz.

it's terrifying that our bodies can turn against us...even though we work so hard to take care of them. BUT-i really love how you don't talk about "hating your body for doing this to you"...or stuff like that. describing it as "kicking and screaming to survive" has got to be doing wonders to keeping it fighting for you.

huge hugs...

6:24 PM  
Blogger BunnyBubblette said...

And, of course, the reason your body is kicking and screaming and dragging the rest of you along right now is because you invested 52 years doing all the right things for your body! So, give your soul a pat on the back for that!

6:37 PM  
Blogger Christopher C. NC said...

The tenacity of Life in all its forms is an amazing thing to ponder. In such an abundance of Life you would think an individual organism would not struggle so mightily to hang on. There are so many others of its kind that will continue. The exact opposite happens. Life seems to have a force of its own beyond an individual.

My view of myself if I was in your shoes is that I would give up and surrender. Today is a good day to die. So we watch in awe at the power of the Life force that is exhibited in you because it is an amazing force, not believing we ourselves would have that courage and strength, not believing that force resides in each of us too.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Your smile. If you don't love it, I sure do.

Whatever holds you up, that smile keeps us smiling with you. At times wryly, at times hilariously.

That smile is more valuable than words.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhh your body has turned against you Liz, this is your body's way of vomiting up the chemo. Liz's body knows best.

I don't know if having been in great physical shape helps. I have a friend who was too, and she's come through something similar, still not over, but still her. I've not seen a lot of ravage with the people I know taking chemo, I mean, as with you might hear or read about it, but really one friend said her skin had never been so clear, someone should patent chemo for acne.

Nora Ephron has a new essay collection out Liz. She's angry at her neck. Apparently she too has been betrayed by a body part. It's wattley.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I start your list? You have an engaging smile. When I see your smile I wonder what the secret is behind it. It is not just your mouth. Your eyes have a mischeivious twinkle. What is she up to? Well I guess the secret is that she is going to kick cancers ass.


8:32 PM  
Blogger Melinda J. Herring, BFA, LMT said...

I think you have a gorgeous head. I love seeing it in all it's splendor. You are still one glorious, beautiful woman.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might find comfort, as I do, in this poem about November (or loss) in John Updike's "A Child's Calendar: Poems by John Updike"--

“The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The loss of her
Departed leaves. . . .

And yet the world,
Displays a certain

The beauty of
The bone. Tall God
Must see our souls
This way, and nod.”

This reminds me that we are more than the sum of our parts. You may have lost (temporarily) the body you love, but the real you is still here.

Your musings on loss are very moving. Thank you for your honesty.

11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ages ago, someone asked me to describe the parts of my body that I loved the best. I told him I loved my brain and my good Irish kidneys and liver. The latter two supported my beer habit and my brain got me to the beer.

You have many outstanding things that are only visible through your actions or a good CAT scan. There's your mind and heart and all those parts you took good care of that are going to bound back when you've finished kicking cancer's ass.

12:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I ever seem to have to say here is "wow". And once again, wow. That's a great big wonderful thing to love your body for.

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,

am a 32 year old (just married in the middle of my cancer) woman with oesophageal cancer, I was healthy like you (type 1 diabetic but otherwise) but I still got it.

I love your sense of humour about things and can relate. Oh, I have no hair too and I can understand your rant about steroids, I gained weight from them (though I was severly underweight from the affects of the cancer (vomiting up ALL your food is a good way to loose weight).

Keep up the good blog,


6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have single handedly reminded me that I have a body, other than a brain, which is real busy doing stuff every day. A brain, I knew I had, a body I forgot about. As a result of your blog, at 52, I made a bunch of drs. appointments for whatever I could think of, not having gone for a number of years. I have no memory of my last physical, it's been decades. Saw the internist yesterday (didn't like her, after nearly 3 minutes when I said I have a short list of items to discuss, she said "I don't know if I have time to hear them all", to which I said, "um, I've been hear maybe 3 minutes tops so far." She listened. Will seek another dr. Got a strongly recommended to-do colonoscopy (thanks a lot) and got lots of blood work done today. Other visits are to follow in the coming weeks. So, thanks, which is an understatement. A huge one. Like, huge. You're making a difference.

YOU have it all together...the spirit is beautiful, the body is on your side and doing its best to fight this fight and show the interloper who's boss. Yeah, definitely have to love it, no doubt about that. Your body seems to be taking over for you, saying, settle down, I'm doing what I need to do, just step aside for a short time, then you get control back. I think you're doing an incredible job "hanging in there" for lack of better words.

another susan

10:06 AM  
Blogger anne said...

I'm not sure I can add to the eloquence of what's already been said here. You're right - I've grown accustomed to being strong and healthy, as you had; you've given me something to think about here. Thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness - you have made my day better with your words.

I agree with the above - you have a beautiful smile. You also have a wonderful brain and terrific heart. Your posts frequently make me wish I could give you a hug (non-stalkerish!). You are a beautiful woman, Liz, especially in the midst of this awfulness. You are definitely more than the sum of your parts.

Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers,

10:27 AM  
Blogger Alto2 said...

To this humble observer, one of your greatest attributes is your spirit. It is the intangible, indestructible thread that holds your body together. Without it, you wouldn't be smiling in every photo, you wouldn't be parading around blissfully bald and proud.

All hail your resilient body and your indomitable spirit!

11:55 AM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

You will always be beautiful, Liz.

12:56 AM  
Blogger viola power said...

I know just what you men about your body being a traitor. For 34 years, I have taken mine on nice bicycle adventures, fed it reasonably well, purchsed it the nice lotion for maximum moisturizing enjoyment. And my thanks has been breast cancer! Argh. I've taken a new course of smoking more cigars and eating more ice cream, to see if that will help. Rich pastires from the local French bakery seem to be in the plan as well.

Keep fighting.

Or, try some Scsmelzk. Scsmelzk may not be right for everyone. so check with your doctor, assuming they actually exist, and are not a figment of your imagination created by the many, many interns that have had a go at feeling you up. This will only occur after filling out more paperwork than that to purchase a house. Scsmelzk is also my 'word verification' word.

11:20 PM  
Blogger deviousdiva said...

I cannot belive I "lost" your blog while I was moving my own. I have missed reading you. You are an incredible woman and a powerful inspiration to me. Thank you.

9:05 AM  

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