I am no longer in the fishbowl.
The fishbowl being my term for life as a cancer patient. An invisible thing, but a barrier separating you from those who are not experiencing anything close to what you are experiencing. It even has a distorting effect on how you see the world much like a fishbowl would.
Patients themselves seem to be aware that we are not one lump of generalized experience; we each have our own fishbowls, and we ask about each others' experiences knowing they are separate from our own.
Now I am out of it, or perhaps I am amphibious, moving in and out. Aware of the distortion from the fishbowl's perspective, but able to mingle with the air breathers.
Most are no longer checking in with me, asking how I am doing. This confirms my theory that such questions are asked either for personal reassurance or for vicarious thrill seeking. At the same time, I never expected such checking in before hand and I struggled with it during. I am now unsure how to manage this "post-treatment" phase of life. The initial instinct is to piece back together the relatively happy existence I had before January 1st, (step one: endurance training. step two: run) but I am also at the beginning of this new road. Will the same methods I used before even translate? Where is this new road going? I was initially under the impression that I may have taken a detour, but that could retrace my steps and find the place where life made a sharp turn.
The reality is that I've shed away layers of myself as this year has progressed. I surprised myself at times. And I can't say I'm the same person. But I still want my transformation to mean something to someone other than me. I want the loss of the life I had been living in 2012 to mean something.
This time last year I was readying myself to date again. Now I need to rebuild myself to that point (or it may be an altogether different point). I have to re-process this experience and integrate it into my life outside the fishbowl. But I don't want to forget the perspective of the fishbowl. So few on this side understand it. To say "because I had cancer" can be as much of an excuse as it is an explanation. It also re-establishes the barrier from which I've just been freed.
Y'all couldn't possibly understand. Don't even try.
And most don't.
When I shaved my head (or maybe it was beforehand), one lady at work commented on my nonchalance, "Well, you're just not that vain," which struck me as grossly incorrect. It was also a morality statement, as if the women donning wigs did so out of vanity. Therefore I was some kind of superhuman for not being so "weak". Grossly incorrect.
I've discovered that cancer and chemo and the rest profoundly affects women's sense of self image simply due to the upset of our own expression of femininity. Gender cues, how and how much we express, is as much as apart of our personal identities as professional skillsets and hobbies, who we love and who we choose to love. Hair was one factor in my life I had taken as a "given". My hair was long and curly and thick. I loved and hated it. I let it grow and sheared it close. It would always grow back, no matter how I abused it. It was just there.
And then it wasn't. But I was already learning there were other ways to express my femininity. Long heavy skirts make me look tall and slender. Hanging earrings accent my long neck. Not every woman has the gall to experiment with her image, where one element is removed, it is easily replaced by another. Also not every woman is at the best possible place in her life to receive such a diagnosis. For that I am fortunate.
My large breasts however, I had long deemed more of a curse than a blessing. I didn't have much guidance on entering womanhood with grace and dignity, so I fumbled with teenage styles that had no chance of flattering a woman's body. The attention of men was something to be regarded with caution, if not outright anxiety. Even in my 20s.
At 30 after an 18 month weight loss effort, I was finally comfortable in my skin and comfortable with the attention my confidence afforded me. I was ready for this brave new world of finally finding Mr. Right. Or at least Mr. Right Now. I hoped I could tell the difference.
Now a year later, my body is scarred. My breasts may be shaped and contoured by an artist of a plastic surgeon; in theory more "ideal" than before, more symmetrical and perky, but the breasts I had before were mine. In that I created them through growth and girth and motherhood and my own struggle to love them. They weren't burnt by radiation or scarred an a very funky pattern. They weren't lopsided in their sensitivity and I wasn't left hoping that such weirdness will heal itself and won't be a "thing" to worry about the next time I undress for someone.
The treatment leaves you desensitized from your body. You are exposed to many eyes and felt up by many hands. You are stabbed and jabbed and drawn upon. After all the doctors and techs and nurses and medical students, you have to define for yourself what "sexy" means all over again.