Getting older and watching nature take it’s course is one thing, but being diagnosed with cancer and seeing your body change in front of your eyes is quite something else! I tried to pretend I wasn’t bothered about it, but inside I was hurting like mad. Even as I had just turned fifty I still took a pride in my appearance, did my best to keep my weight under control and was lucky to have a good head of hair. I attempted to dress appropriately and would have liked to think I could have still turned the odd head, and I guess we would all like to think we could do that? Actually I was quite shocked at how much my appearance meant to me, even at my age. Firstly my hair came out, then I lost an incredible amount of weight. Having got used to that, the long term treatment included steroids which made me look like a night club bouncer, with more neck folds and chins than I care to remember. The treatments have continued for many years, and are now affecting my teeth, eyes and brain, and it takes almost continual ‘maintenance’ to look like a human being these days. But being older, I have more confidence to deal with these issues and have become resigned to what is going on, however make no mistake it is still extremely tough to look in the mirror on occasions!
I appreciate that this situation is even harder for a woman, and I have been party to many conversations in the last few years on this very subject. In most cases it is not about how others see us after our illness, it is how we see ourselves, and that is even more difficult!
But what if I were a young person, how would I have coped? The issues that young people face with a rapidly changing body image due to treatment can stay with them for life psychologically. In previous posts I have mentioned how I enjoy working with young people in the cancer support field, there is a freshness and vitality about how they view things, and I am delighted to collaborate with a charity in Italy, Adolescenti e cancro (Teens and cancer.) They work with young people between the ages of 13-24 and look to offer peer to peer support.
They are currently running an exhibition of photographs of young people affected by cancer, who wish to celebrate their beauty, despite the treatment they are going through. The girls are rightly proud of who they are and the piece below is written by Simona (21,) who has Germ Cell Neoplasia, and explains why she wanted to participate in the exhibition.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to… this was said by John Keats in one of his most famous poems. And our pictures say the same thing, we’re beautiful, and there is nothing truer than that. It’s really hard to face such a radical and prolonged change in your physical appearance, especially for us girls!
We always look for attention and other people’s approval. Many girls are shy and can’t cope with this obstacle; it seems such an insurmountable hurdle when you have to relate to the external world.
Other girls accept the change with real strength. We’re here, without fear and without being ashamed, to show that cancer is a horrible disease and it brings a lot of difficult aftermaths and they’re hard to accept, but it also pushes us to tell that nothing changes inside us. We’ve got bald heads but we’re warriors, each of us has her own story, her own voice, and even her own anger. We’re all beautiful because if you look at the thousands of shades in our eyes, or at our smiles, you can see all the beauty and all the truth you can find in this world. These details are those that people are going to remember and that can make a difference.
I decided to send my picture for the international photography exhibition “You’re beautiful” for all these reasons. I took the picture one evening as I was about to go out and in that moment I was feeling like I’ve never felt before, beautiful. I’ve known many girls who were ashamed of being bald or of wearing a wig. We often forget that what makes us different from the others are their pity and compassionate glances. We’re the same person we were before the diagnosis, just stronger, more beautiful and happier than ever, and these three things make true beauty!”
It is refreshing to see things like this, and a great way for people to express themselves. The Internet has given us an incredible tool which many are using to change the traditional world of cancer support. Not only can we share ideas, but we can connect across the world and work together against cancer! As I mentioned earlier in the piece, each age group has it’s own unique challenges when facing cancer, and up till recent times, this group was struggling to find it’s voice. Now I am seeing units designed particularly with young people in mind, and charities growing to help support them, and projects like this photographic exhibition are doing a lot to raise awareness of these issues. I would like to congratulate Rebecca and her colleagues who run the charity, for their incredible passion and enthusiasm for helping young people affected by cancer, and hope you gain the support you require to continue this incredible work. Finally I would like to thank Simona, for writing the above piece and all the young ladies who participated in the exhibition, well done all!
Have you been conscious of your changing appearance because of cancer and it’s treatments? How did it affect you? As always it would be great to hear your experiences below.