This Is Me
The movie The Greatest Showman came out shortly after I was diagnosed with both a blood cancer called polycythemia vera (PV) and breast cancer. The musical was inspired by the story of P.T. Barnum and his troupe.
One of the songs, "This is Me," really resonated with me. Actually, it became kind of my personal anthem as I struggled to get my life back on track following the cancers and subsequent treatments. Now, of course, I wasn’t a brash large bearded lady in a circus that was letting the world know “I don’t care what you think, I am me." However, the cancers did a number on my physical appearance and ultimately affected my self-esteem. This left me thinking the song's lyrics were quite appropriate.
My changing appearance due to PV symptoms
Weight loss and muscle changes
Spleen enlargement is one of the many symptoms of PV. Because mine was enlarged, I got full really fast and I couldn’t eat very much at a time. This, combined with months of chemo for my breast cancer that took my appetite, left me very thin and malnourished. I started taking on a hallowed and gaunt appearance.
I was no longer able to run, due to foot pain from undetermined causes. Therefore, most of the muscles I had, and was so proud of from the many years of long-distance running, slowly deteriorated. Because of all the surgeries, even light weights were out of the question for a while, leaving my arms a pitiful flabby mess.
Skin changes and fatigue
One of the symptoms of PV is poor circulation in the hands which is called Reynaud’s disease. This caused my hands to turn a plethora of colors, from stark white to bright purple. Which, by the way, tends to attract peoples attention. PV also has an impact on my rosacea and my constant flushing the color of a tomato made me look like a red-faced mutant. I developed anemia from the PV and with that came fatigue and stressful sleepless nights, and the chemo gave me the baggy purplish dark circles under my eyes like I had been on the losing end of a fight most days. A look that even an excessive amount of make-up couldn’t cover.
Mastectomy and hair loss
Then, throw in the bilateral mastectomy, a port sticking out of my chest, and the bald head, no eyebrows, or eyelashes from the breast cancer treatment, on top of everything else. Let’s face it, I looked like a freak. I felt like my body was crumbling apart before my eyes.
Regaining my confidence and self-esteem
Needless to say, all of this affected my confidence level and self-esteem; it was almost zero at this point.
So, being that I was at my lowest, I really had only one way to go... up! And so I did! It was a slow process. In the three years following the two diagnoses and various treatments, most of the symptoms or side effects of both cancers dissipated. I look significantly better and have been able to get back into much better shape. Now I look a lot less... well... scary. All my scars, instead of being ashamed of them, I wear them proudly as they show that I’m a survivor!
I also have found that cancer actually increased my self-confidence. I know that sounds a little odd, but cancer essentially helped me find my voice. After one goes through cancer treatment, regardless of the type, it changes you. Things that were important at one time, no longer were, including what people thought of me. It kind of gave me a carte blanc to do say and do whatever I wanted. I took on the attitude 'if you don’t like me for the way I am, too bad. Your loss.'
So, to quote the words of Lettie Lutz in The Greatest Showman: "Look out, cause here I come. And I’m marching to the beat I drum. I’m not scared to be seen. I make no apologies, this is me..." 1