The hardest thing for me to accept after my diagnosis was the way I looked in the mirror. Plain and simple. Not even close. Isn’t that completely ridiculous? I had gotten over the fact that I have a giant tumor in my abdomen. I had accepted a Stage 4 Cancer diagnosis. I had acquiesced to 24 weeks of grueling chemo. I am actually looking forward to having a six inch incision in my stomach to have the tumor removed. I had submitted to the realization that my life will include a dramatic lifestyle change moving forward. And, the 11 percent thing doesn’t even phase me anymore. But, the mirror haunted me.
I had an extremely hard time not being self-conscious about the way I looked. I found myself blankly staring in the mirror for minutes at a time in disbelief. For me, this was the first time I could remember being uncomfortable in my own skin, which, quite frankly, is really hard to publically admit. To me, this speaks volumes about the society we live in and what we place value on.
I’m down fifty pounds, as of this moment, most of which was muscle. Fifty, 50. That’s over twenty percent of my body, just gone. I was a pretty fit guy. I liked being that guy. I worked hard to become that guy. I liked filling out my shirt sleeves and being strong. And, to be honest, I really liked the compliments that came with it sometimes. Everyone likes compliments, especially when they work hard for something and especially when that something takes a sustained effort over a long period of time.
Now, I can’t wear any of the clothes that I owned before my diagnosis. My elastic sweatpants fell down the other day while I was walking around my house. WTF to that. I put on my favorite shirt yesterday, it looked like it was still on a hanger. I bought a custom, tailored suit in August, you would never know now. Plus, At this point, saying I have chicken legs is a compliment. It’s been three months. Just three months. That’s 90 days. It’s a huge change. Almost ten years of working out and lifting, vanished.
Around Christmas, I got down to the same weight I was when I started my freshman year of High School, at 14 years old. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I have a poop bag that hangs from my belly, accompanied by five other recent surgical scars in the same area, and a pin cushion looking ordeal (the port) that protrudes out of my shoulder. Oh, and a five inch scar on my other shoulder.
Poor me, huh? No, screw that. I let myself feel bad about it for a couple weeks, but that was more than enough. The whole pity party thing is completely useless. It is just more conjured up negativity that none of us need. It’s not doing any of us any good. It helps nothing. It doesn’t even help you get past the issue at hand.
Personally, I have too many things going on in my life that are actually important to let my own opinion of the way other people might perceive my physical appearance affect me. I had become a slave to my own idea of myself, and I won’t allow myself to be shackled to what I once was. I appeal to you to do the same. Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, maybe I won’t. I’m sure going to try everything I can once I Chuck Norris roundhouse kick cancer in the neck. But, either way, I still have tons to offer to those around me. And, so do you. We all have something on our body that we don’t like. Everyone. Most of us, lots of things. If we didn’t, plastic surgeons wouldn’t be so damn busy and make so damn much money.
There is no such thing as a perfect body. If you think someone you know has a perfect body or even a perfect life, go ahead and ask them what they would change. I bet they have several answers ready to fire off. You know why? Because this thing called life happens. You don’t get through unscathed. And, I think that’s a good thing. It allows you to grow and develop as a person. Hardship breeds character. Imperfections make you perfectly you. Own it!
Also, don’t believe everything that you think about yourself. It’ll get you in a lot of trouble and cause you a lot of pain. Nobody needs additional amounts of either of those, life already gives you plenty. I’m not advocating actively letting yourself go, by any means. But, walk proud, walk tall, stick your chest out, keep your chin up, and accept you for you. If you are bound and determined to change the way you look, or anything about yourself, work hard to make that change! The body is an amazing machine and responds to the stimuli that you provide it. Growth and development are what life is all about, just be happy with what you have along the way and you’ll be much more successful…”Zach Approved.”
The way you perceive your body goes hand-in-hand with the stop being a hater thing. It won’t do you any good to stop being a hater outwardly, but degrade yourself, or the way you look. Being inwardly positive is, at least, equally as important as being outwardly positive. You can tear yourself down or build yourself up, the amount of effort is equal. If you can’t appreciate your body as it is, you can’t expect anyone else to either. I don’t have a ton of experience with this, but I’m sure it causes a major disconnect and puts a lot of strain on relationships.
I don’t think bodies are sexy. Bodies can be attractive, but they are not sexy. People are sexy. Confidence is sexy. Being able to have a great conversation with someone is sexy. Peaking someone’s interest and curiosity is sexy. Being passionate about things is sexy. Having things in common like values, morals, and wants is sexy. People gravitate to that. Accept yourself, be proud of yourself, and you will be desirable to others. Wear that big smile of yours proudly and light up the room when you walk in.
Look, it sucks that we care so much about how we look. It’s not even just look, gender stereotypes are obnoxious too. I mean, I get it, but it sucks. We compare ourselves to these unrealistic standards in every aspect. I know that’s not going to stop anytime soon and I’m not naïve enough to attempt to change an entire culture. But, what I think we can all do is view ourselves in a positive light, regardless of the things we wish were different. The next time you think about something on your body that you want to change, remember that everyone else has the same thoughts. Everyone wants to be taller or shorter, bigger or smaller, to have better skin, to have better hair, or to have whatever. In reality, there is no Photoshop. You have everything you need and that is all that matters.
I can’t begin to imagine what most people go through on a daily basis. But, being ashamed or embarrassed about your physical appearance is exhausting. Let it go. It’s not worth your time. The fact is, we don’t get to pick what our bodies look like. None of us look exactly the same. Most of us are genetically predisposed to look nothing like the modern concept of “beauty.” Those people don’t even look like that. It’s a mirage, an illusion, and, in some ways, a travesty.
Be happy, be healthy, be confident in yourself, and smile.