My own body is one that has changed immensely since my breast cancer diagnosis in 2016. I have lost weight. I have gained weight. Building muscle was easy before cancer. Now, it takes twice the time and energy. My skin was smooth and youthful before cancer. Today, it's texture tells a different story.
I have awoken to new versions of my appearance on many occasions. Nearly every part of me has changed in some way, but hope has always been within reach. I am here to share the practices I exercise daily that have helped me to move forward in my healing journey.
When we are in our youth, we are often told that our bodies are our own, that they are sacred and beautiful, and that we are safe within. In adolescence, we work to conceptualize in our not-yet-fully-developed minds what these statements truly mean. In our teenage years, we find ourselves testing the boundaries of these superficially understood definitions and then we spend our young adult years trying to learn how to believe these teachings. And in our greatest efforts, we rooted the connection between comprehending and believing, and we thought ourselves unshakable.
Young, emboldened people we were. Quick to recover from our incidental injuries and short-lived common illnesses, our days were free from worry surrounding our own health and morbidity.
Cancer? “That is what older people get, right?” “Even if I did get cancer, I am young, I could get over it.” Oh, these preconceived notions of a life not yet lived or understood.
An Evolving Sense of Safety Within Our Own Skin
And then it happened, we received our diagnoses. Everything we knew of this world and about our own internal and external states of being was ripped out from under our feet, the once firm ground underneath gave way to our shifting concepts of health.
In this cancer journey, we rise, we fall, and we rise again, all while inhabiting but losing recognition of the body we were once told would carry us into our elderly years, the body that we believed to be the vessel of strength and resilience, a body of fortitude. Our bodies were supposed to support and sustain us.
We were perfectly healthy, or so we thought. Our bodies gave us no prior indication that something was amiss, not a single hint. We took care of them just like our same age peers and friends and we tended to their every need. Many of us went to the doctor for our routine check-ups as instructed, we ate healthfully, and we practiced good lifestyle habits. It was not supposed to happen like this.
Our minds rallied and begged our bodies to explain, “How could you deceive me like this?” To lose trust in the very skin we call our own feels like the ultimate betrayal.
How to Shift from Negative Self-Talk to One of Healing and Recovery
For our bodies to heal, we must approach these matters from a different vantage point. Speaking to oneself from a place of anywhere other than honor and respect is only further damaging. We must release that which does not serve us; we must release ourselves from the binding that is negative self-talk, and we must volitionally alter our narratives in a way that supports compassion for oneself.
Now, this is by no means a simple shift, but instead of focusing on what your body did not do for you, acknowledge what your body did do for you to help you to become the overcomer you are today. Your body did not try to harm you; an awful disease found its way into your healthy body. Your body did not keep this disease a secret from you; it let you or your physicians know something was wrong at the first moment it was able to do so. Your body did not falter; it conserved the energy it needed to sustain you after the intensive treatments and/or major surgeries.
Your body did not fail you; it carried you through every single one of your most difficult days.
Rebuilding Kindness and Trust Through Positive Self-Talk
Question yourself: Heavy statements, yes. Transformative statements, absolutely. Another consideration when your inner dialogue is less than encouraging and affirming is to ask yourself, “Is this something I would say to another person in my situation, another person who has been through what I have been through or who is walking this very same path?”
Be your own best friend: Shape your words into those that elicit compassion over shame. Pivot and redirect. Replace defamatory words and phrases with statements of illumination and warmth. It might seem artificial or uncomfortable, maybe even a bit awkward at first, but over time you will become more skilled at silencing the words that fail to serve you. When they no longer have a space to occupy, their power is minimized, and the power is transferred back to you!
Practice body forgiveness: You have the ability to modify your own self-talk and to reframe your thinking, and these very practices can serve as powerful precursors to falling in love with your body, whether that is again or for the first time. It is when you pause and take note of all the beautiful ways in which your body never failed you that you can discover that the trust was never lost, and it is then that you can begin to forgive your body for the changes that happened within, for the changes that were beyond your body’s control.
And it is when you begin to find mastery in these habits that you can find yourself thanking your body for helping you to evolve into the overcomer that you are today.