Looking in the mirror

Last week I think I hit a new low of sheer misery. The fatigue that comes with chemotherapy is truly cumulative, and with each new treatment, it is growing increasingly difficult to do any of the things I once enjoyed. Such as taking a walk. Or lifting my laptop. Or lifting my head. The tiniest things we all take for granted have become incomprehensible to me. Memories of the past. Of a life I once lived, where my body would do whatever I asked of it, with ease. I feel as though I have been thrust into old age almost overnight. My bones ache when I try to move them. My body cries out for rest after walking up a few stairs. I wake up at night with hot flashes, my cheeks burning, thanks to the menopausal effects of chemo. Creases are starting to form on the outer corners of my eyes. My stomach and face are bloated constantly from all the drugs, making me look like I am five months pregnant. I can’t follow a basic conversation without losing focus, or feeling like I need to shut my eyes. I am an old lady. At the ripe age of 28.

Chillin with my Goodnight Moon bunny in bed, where I spent all of last week. I am looking super cancer-y these days. Yikes.

It has been difficult for me to look in the mirror lately. I don’t like what I see. A bald, puffy face, with red patches all over my cheeks and glossy eyes. Is that really me? It is hard to feel healthy or strong, when the image reflected back at me is anything but. Lately I am starting to feel as though I will never get my old self back. I can’t imagine having life in my face again. Or having hair. It seems like appearance should be relatively low on the list of things to feel bad about, when you’re dealing with all the crap that comes with a cancer diagnosis. But it is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for me. Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re already feeling just about as low as a human can feel, it really does add insult to injury.

It is hard for me to look at pre-cancer photos of myself now. I feel very disconnected from the girl I see. She’s pretty, and healthy, and happy, and completely unaware of what is about to happen to her. It’s as though I am looking at someone else’s life, even though I know she is me. Did I really do all those things at one time? Did I really look like that? Did I really have hair? I want to go back into those photos, just for one minute, just to remember what it’s like, to be happy and pretty. To soak up those moments. Because they are starting to slip away from me.

I hope that eventually I can start feeling better about what I see in the mirror. View my reflection as an image of a brave warrior, rather than one of a sick cancer patient whose body has been continuously cut, poked, and poisoned. I don’t want to be that girl who cries when she looks in the mirror. I have never been that girl. I refuse to let her win. And anyone who knows me knows I always get my way.


23 thoughts on “Looking in the mirror

  1. There will be a day, many years from now, when you will look at the pictures you took today, and you will be so proud of yourself. It takes strength and courage to fight cancer. Chemotherapy is difficult, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Life comes back; you are going to be even stronger, and more beautiful than ever. (You are beautiful now, but at the moment you are not able to see it) My wish is for you to stay focussed on your total recovery.
    Been there, done that 15 years ago. Chemo, radiations, etc. I am considered to be cancer free now, though at the time I was diagnosed it has metastasized in the lymph nodes.
    Get well young lady, and have a wonderful life.

  2. Stephanie, every single day, when you wake up, whether you get out of bed or not, or whether you look in the mirror or not, one thing is happening regardless. You are moving one day closer to being cancer free. When the ‘big picture’ is so daunting and maddeningly vague, it’s easy to get bogged down in the minor details, like your hair, blotches on your skin or a lack of energy, but its important to take the time and realize *why* these things are happening. It’s because your body, mind and soul are all using all of their resources to wage a battle. In the middle of the battle, no doubt, there are many long nights and some frustrating days, but each time the sun sets, you are one day closer to the end of the battle and one day closer to being cancer free.

    Chin up, kid.

  3. You WILL get your life back, just keep believing it Steph. From one survivor to another. I know exactky what you’re going through. Two years ago I was in your position, full of chemo, no hair, no eyebrows, weak. Once you finish the chemo you’re going to be moving forward. Onward and upward. Keep believing it. Much love and support.

    -Corey Bainerman

  4. Steph, this too shall pass! This experience will be nothing more then a memory of a chapter in your life. You are a BRAVE hWARRIOR! You do come from a long line of warriors! There will come a day that you may actually cancel a hair appointment just because you can…..love you, Helene. I think you are beautiful inside and out and I am soooo sorry you are going through this…..xoxo

  5. Stephanie, Your sweet and vivacious spirit has gone through a long night, and yet still, a little more, but the daylight increases, and that light will soon envelop you with hope and warmth as Spring makes it gradual entrance, and you will come back stronger and more like yourself than ever. Stay beautiful, stay strong.
    love, Paula, John, Rachel & Rita

  6. What’s amazing is that you say you feel at an all-time low, but your writing is just as full of life as ever, which means you are. Sending get well wishes.

  7. I thought you still look very good for everything you are going through. Oh to be 28. Seriously you are looking good and that is hopeful You have love pouring your way. I am especially rooting for you Steph. Take care

  8. Dont despair. Keep fighting. I think you look pretty good considering what you are going through. Oh to be 28. You are strong, your family is supportive and you are going to beat this.

  9. Hi Steph, I’m a Facebook friend of your cousin, Debbie. I just had my own brush with breast cancer, though it was nothing compared to what you are going through. Having been through chemo (though very mild and short-term) for another cancer-related illness and, more recently, radiation, I know how exhausted you must be. But it sounds like you are a fighter, so hang in there, my Warrior Sister. I’m rooting for you, and I know many others are too. Courage and endurance have their own beauty, and bald and exhausted though you are, you are still beautiful.

  10. Steph, you truly are a beautifulAnd talented woman. And although I only met you briefly you showed yourself to be very strong and confident. I have no doubt those two characteristics will help you through this challenge. And I have to agree with a few of the others that have posted…you are simply breathtaking. I’m sure you don’t feel that way, but know the rest of us ( those who know you well and those who don’t) see a strength and beauty that you “think” is gone but isn’t. You’re hair will grow back, the redness in your cheeks will dissappear and although some scars may remain you will no longer be a cancer patient but a survivor.
    Jennifer xo

  11. I always feel weird about posting a reply. We don’t know eachother and obviously have never met, but through your beautiful and talented writing I feel I know part of you. You are beautiful inside and out and have an army of people cheering you on every step of the way.

  12. I think you are beautiful. You are one tough cookie and your Mom is right and you can do this. We all believe on you . Please hug your bunny and know we love you and we are with all the way. love and big kisswes your way RZ

  13. I’m a friend your cousin Matt and saw this on his Facebook page. I wanted you to know, that when I scrolled down and saw the picture of you with your bunny I thought you were absolutely beautiful. And then I read the rest of your post and knew that you were absolutely beautiful. Fight for as long as you can fight and then try to fight a little more.

  14. We’re all in your corner, Steph. Fighting along side you, anyway we can. You’ll always be a beauty, inside and out…anyone who disagrees, has to get by me first!!

  15. You are that beautiful girl! When it’s all over you will be even more beautiful and stronger!! Don’t lose hope you are not alone! You are always in my thoughts! A gentle hug

    Fanny fanzak@gmail.com 202-577-3038

  16. Hi Steph, it’s Lu Ann here…a life long friend of your Mom. I wasn’t going to post a message because I can’t say I understand what you are going through. Most people that have had cancer or are going through it connect with you, I never want to be the person to say I understand. I fell sad, I feel angry, I feel so many feelings for you and your family but I’ve never been there, so I can’t pretend I get it. I also feel alot of love with your strong family, I have a couple of great stories to share with you if you don’t mind. I have known your Mom since grade 3…do the math ! In grade 5
    I had a bad skating accident when my right hand was seriously cut and was in a cast for months, your Mom to the rescue, doing all my homework and helping me out in Mrs. Gruber’s class ! The year before I had a bad report card on spelling, often stopped by your Grandma’s house on my way home and when she saw the report she told me “you WILL do better in spelling”,( only in Ruth’s soft tone) !…well guess what, I did and she gave me a beautiful “flower power” blue pin later that year. Beautiful memories, just thought I’d share them with you. You have strong loving genes… Boxing gloves on girl !!!! love, Lu Ann

  17. One more chemo to go, and your hair WILL grow back, and it will be beautiful, just like you. Better days ahead!

  18. love your Moms comment….so TRUE. You are a champion fighter. You are a beautiful cancer patient. I can’t wait to see the photographs as your hair comes back.
    Love to you all…..the crazy RI cousin.

  19. I totally understand how you’re feeling. It’s a long road. But also remember that our family doesn’t know about giving in or giving up. You come from a very long line of fighters. I’ll buy you your own set of boxing gloves and you can show cancer who’s in charge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s