Today’s post features thoughts from Robin, a survivor of both facial and ovarian cancer and a CHN Support Volunteer since 2013. We are grateful for her service – and for her honesty and openness about the challenges she faced and the insights she gained during her fight.
That’s me alright…the old me. The me who never thought I was vain. Boy was I wrong. The key word in that sentence: vain.
Adjective: having or showing an excessively high opinion of one's appearance, abilities, or worth. Or: producing no result; useless.
Either is seemingly appropriate when it comes to making a decision whether or not to alter one’s looks by choice or necessity.
As a volunteer I have spoken to many people having to make a decision to surgically disfigure themselves or who already had the life-altering surgery. Some chose to have reconstruction others did not. Either decision is correct. Only we as patients can truly go deep into our being to make the decision. For me it was relatively easy. When I heard the doctor said the Basal & Squamous cells were spreading towards my sinuses, I knew my decision. If I didn’t choose the radical surgery I increased my chances that the cancer would go into the sinus cavity, then to my brain.
Luckily for me, my doctors were able to reconstruct my nose and not leave me with a “hideous” hole in my face. That word. That awful, powerful word. Hideous. It’s been an integral part of my cancer journey. It will not define my journey.
I remember asking my doctor what I would look like after the 1st surgery. His answer? “Hideous.” Incredulous, I repeated, “hideous?” I ran to my trusted plastic surgeon who had previously done some non-cancerous surgery on me. I trust her with all my might and when she used the exact word (hideous) to describe how I would look, it was if someone socked me in my stomach. I completely lost my breath. She did add that she would repair anything after a couple of years. Well it has been four and I am still not in the mood. It took seven surgeries to get me to this.
Many men I have spoken to have chosen the non-reconstruction path and live without a nose. They are not vain at all; however, I have to ask if they considered their loved ones? Maybe they think because they are men vanity should never be considered? The balance between vanity and a lack of vanity is surely delicate. No matter the final choice, this is all traumatic. From the time the words come out of the doctor's mouth it is almost impossible to comprehend.
No matter the word choice, this experience was beyond horrible. I still cannot look in mirror and not see me after the first surgery. Consequently, I am never happy with the way I look no matter what is staring back at me. I use more makeup, tweeze my eyebrows differently to even them on my face, etc. But you know what? I am cancer free and decided to get on with my life and have a ball. I had to decide how long I was going to sit on my pity pot. If I chose to give in to the self-pity, my life would be miserable and I knew that negativity brings in negative energy. I could not risk that.
Which brings me back to vanity.
I know a woman right now who was diagnosed with the same facial cancer and it is spreading to her sinuses. Sadly, vanity got in her way - she actually saw me go through my phases of surgeries and chose to just have radiation. She thought she would be fine. She has now had her gums, teeth and palate removed and the cancer has spread to her brain. When I speak to her now, I listen. I do not and cannot say a word. This was her decision. I am terribly sad that she now regrets that decision, as do her children, husband and grandchildren.
Facial cancer is rarely really talked about. It can be difficult to find support once the doctors tell you the diagnosis. I believe it is impossible for them to tell you what to expect. How could they? They have never gone through it.
It is impossible to know how you will deal with cancer when you are diagnosed and no one can make the decision for you. What I do know, vanity is an adjective. We are all beautiful and we have been since our birth. Without vanity your soul shines and everyone can see it. Without vanity, you have more fun in life. Without vanity you quite possibly can live. As Rosalind Russell said in the movie Auntie Mame, “Life is but a banquet, Live! Live! Live!