Coming to Grips with My Vanity Quotient
It’s been just over four weeks since my last frontline chemotherapy treatment and just over six months since my surgery. I am grateful to have come this far. Yet, I am struggling. As I try to find the core of the struggle I have reluctantly come to realize it’s about vanity. I have some shame about admitting this openly. And, I cannot deny this experience as it’s a part of my journey. So, to stay in step with the metaphor, I am about to stand in front of you naked.
I’ve come to think of my vanity quotient as a mathematical equation:
Vanity = (Performance÷Appearance)²
For those of you who hate math, don’t sweat this one. It’s easy to understand. The sum of my vanity has two major components: appearance or my perception of what I look like and performance or my perception of my body’s ability.
I’ll start with my appearance. Most of my shame is attached to my appearance. And not in the way you might think. I’m not so ashamed of how I look. I’m ashamed about how much I care about how I look. So, why do I seem to care so much now that I’m done with heavy treatment? Honestly, while I was in the muck of chemo, I wasn’t paying attention to how I looked. I was focused on surviving. Now that I have come up for air and I’m literally reentering my life I see myself not only reflected in the mirror but through the eyes of others. Or, at least what I think they see. I’m no dummy. I’m a therapist and I realize I’m projecting my insecurities onto others. Nonetheless, I’m human. What I see in the mirror is a mostly bald, grey-haired, skinny yet flabby middle-aged woman with some awful looking foreign body sticking out of her chest.
And in my “Vanity Quotient”, my Appearance plays a much smaller role than my Performance. What do I mean by “performance”? It’s my body’s ability to perform. At the risk of using “TMI”, I have vowed to be transparent while writing about my experience. In my life Before Cancer (BC), I took for granted that:
I could have a bowel movement everyday like clockwork.
I could have sex without pain.
I could hear well.
I could see well.
I could taste well.
What I didn’t take for granted was my physical strength and endurance. I worked hard for the privilege to say I am “strong”. I finished each and every run and bike ride with a sense of being incredibly grateful. As if I knew this could disappear at any moment. My physical strength has disappeared. I feel like I’ve aged 30 years in six months. I’m overwhelmed and confused and angry and mostly deeply, deeply sad. I didn’t realize how attached I was to this part of my identity, this piece of my vanity quotient. I would trade my appearance for feeling better, for feeling physically capable, for my bowels to function normally, for sex to be pleasurable, for hearing, seeing and tasting like I used to be able to hear, see and taste.
I started this blog stating that I’m a little over four weeks out of frontline chemotherapy and six months out from the “mother of all surgeries”. I’m told it will take at least one year to physically recover from this assault. In the meantime, I must practice patience. I also must let go of being so attached to my vanity. Or at least rework the equation. I’ve alway liked math.