Let me explain.
I'm happy being a woman. I'm feminine - which, in a simplified way, means I like wearing dresses, I wear makeup and perfume, my skin is soft, I like being clean (I don't mind getting dirty, but clean should quickly follow), I'm mostly graceful, I cry, I'm strong, I'm loving, I'm open and honest. I work hard to look and feel well. I take a simple amount of pride in my appearance, although I wouldn't call myself high maintenance - I can hang out in Alaska fortwo weeks without makeup, wearing only jeans, t-shirts, and hiking boots, but also clean up pretty well and can hold my own in a public venue. I'm not catty - but I am intimidated my high-maintenance women - I look rather simple around them. I am educated - both academically and via the school of experience. I like to cook, garden, hold grandchildren, and be with my husband.
However, my appearance, as a woman, has taken its toll, and I have felt less-than a woman for most of the past five months. Women are judged, initially by the way they look, and I am uncomfortable with the way I look right now.
- Hair - I shave my legs, armpits, worry about facial hair, and I've tried to keep the hair on my head clean, well styled, a nice color. Gone - all of it.
- Make-up - for the most part my makeup routine has been the same as always, although - without eyebrows and with minimal eyelashes, it's hard to pretend I'm "normal."
- Skin-tone - I have nice complexion, and my skin is typically bright and clear. My uncle told me the other day that I no longer looked like a cadaver! My lips have been the barometer for how I'm feeling - they have gone from chemo gray to pinked up.
- Adding a hat to my morning routine now finishes my look - having no hair simplifies the getting ready for the day routine, but I miss those beauty signifiers.
- Hormones - a woman's moods and her femaleness, and often as we age we need the assistance of hormones to keep in balance. Because of my age, I've been doing hormone replacement therapy to try and ease the burden of menopause. The day my tumor was detected, I was pulled off my hormones. Better yet, yanked, because my body was forced to go through menopause in a very short time, which means mood swings - big swings.
- Nails - my nails have always been strong and long. They grow fast, and I haven't had bumps and ridges and weakening of them. However chemotherapy has ruined my fingernails. My toes are OK, but my fingernails are yellow, and I will lose probably half of them. I have to keep them short, length adds pressure and pain to my nail beds.
- Breasts - I've never been busty, but I have two boobs that are just the right size for me! Now I have 1 2/3 boobs. While underclothing they look fine, I like to occasionally take my clothes off. My chest is permanently disfigured. And, as I've mentioned before, my left boob has very little feeling. I'm not sure what I'll be doing for a swimsuit this year. My right breast is fine, but right above it is my port - while nothing is outside of my skin, there are two scars, and the port bumps are visible.
- Weight - I exercise, eat right to stay healthy. I've been able to keep my weight about where it needs to be. In fact, my body age, pre-chemo was 46. I'm now about 15 pounds overweight and my body age is 53 - damnit.
- Touch - I miss being touched. I've been touched so much as a patient, but hugging, hand-holding, caressing, I need that - and yet my pain and winter sicknesses have kept me away from much of this.
- Energy - I like to be able to keep up with others, have the energy to work a full day, take care of my home, and have some fun. These days I work a partial day, take care of a load of laundry, and fun is watching Glee or Monk on Netflix, or better yet, taking a nap.
- Being with the girls - I love my friends. I enjoy spending time with at workshops, conferences, lectures, doing a project, going to lunch, walking and talking. This just hasn't happened. As my energy returns, I hope my desire to socialize will also return.