When I was in my mid-thirties I had my body fat percentage done by a friend in the fitness field. It was 17%. Seventeen. When we discussed eating habits, I confessed that my snack of choice was gummi bears. She told me that I should cook up extra chicken and eat that as a snack instead. Pfffttt. Hard pass. I moved on to Skittles.
And so here we are with the second lesson that hit me hard this past year. Know that saying, “use it or lose it”? It’s really true. Seventeen is a number long gone. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was still *somewhat* into exercising. I went to the gym haphazardly. I occasionally rode my bike. I figured doing yard work and projects around the house helped offset my lack of structured exercise. Then the pandemic hit, followed by my cancer treatments, and now here I am, missing my toned arms and stamina. I can’t help but think that if I had taken care of myself as that fitness friend had suggested years ago, my treatments may not have hit me so hard. Maybe I would have bounced back quicker. I certainly wouldn’t be as far out of shape as I am now.
And it’s not that want to get into smaller-sized clothes, although that would be a bonus. I’ve realized in the last year just how quickly our health can decline and with it, our body. And as Buckaroo Banzai said, No matter where you go, there you are. You are stuck with you; forever tied to that body. I wish I hadn’t taken mine for granted. I’m just thankful that Patrick and I walked around the neighborhood regularly during my treatments and I continued stretching exercises. Maybe I have something to build on. I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions, but taking care of myself better next year is on the agenda for sure.
I noticed online that there was quite the stir surrounding The Biggest Loser’s weight loss today. I didn’t watch the show this season, although I have seen it in the past. Apparently the winner lost about 60% of her initial body weight, causing many people to say it was too much. Some even went so far as to claim she looked anorexic or sick and unhealthy. I quickly stopped reading comments, but I’m sure not everyone was nice about expressing their opinions. I had other headlines to investigate, such as Lady Gaga’s eating disorder and Gwen Stefani referring to her younger self as “chunky.” I followed that up with an article about the 12 foods that all dieticians keep in their own houses.
Obviously, there was theme today…What is it about body issues that is so universal? And what makes us so wildly judgmental about them? I don’t have an opinion on the headlines I read today except that they made me sad. It reminded me of how obsessed our culture is with looks and how adversely affected we all are by it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Pollyanna. Every society in every time frame has had standards by which they mark beauty. It’s probably always going to be that way. We love beautiful people. I just wish we could shift the definition of what we find beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Happy is beautiful. And you know what, those two things come in all sizes.
I remember being a teenage girl. Crazy time. And that was before Instagram and Facebook and cellphone camera selfies. We didn’t have images of ourselves plastered every where for everyone to see and judge. But the pressure was there to be thin and model-like. I’m only 5’2″ and built like a gymnast. I was never going to be waiflike as I desired to be. I think I knew that, but it didn’t stop me from hating how I was, as I called myself, short and stocky. And I had my own measurement of whether or not I was getting fat. I’d place my hand, fingers wide across my leg when I was sitting down. If my thighs were larger than my hand, I needed to quit eating. I spent way too many hours of my day worrying about how much I was eating. Trying to see how long I could go without eating. Judging myself against every other girl I thought was thinner that I. The life of a teenager girl is oftentimes constant comparison.
Of course, now I wish I had worried more about what I was eating. I wish I had realized that what mattered most is being healthy. Being strong. I’m thankful I never developed a full-blown eating disorder, and I’m thankful that I don’t let my body issues override my life anymore. Of course there are things I don’t love about myself. But my short, muscular body has served me well over the years. I plan to take care of it, so it continues to do so.
A friend of mine asked me if I’d like to help out with a fundraiser she’s in charge of planning for an organization in town called Healing Pathways. It’s dedicated to providing free psycho-social services to cancer patients and survivors. The fundraiser is an annual Bow Tie March/5K run for men’s cancer awareness. I went today to the committee’s monthly meeting to get an overview of what they’re doing and how I may be able to help out. Of course, I knew by simply going, I was dedicating myself to the cause. But I wanted to. I wrote previously about my sister’s battle with breast cancer and mentioned briefly that my dad was also diagnosed with cancer. Two months prior to my sister’s diagnosis. His was in his stomach.
According to my friend, one reason they are doing a specific event for men’s cancer is because a lot of men put off seeking medical advice, even when they suspect something is wrong. And as we know, when it comes to cancer, early detection is crucial. Women have been told for years to do self-checks and mammograms; who hasn’t seen or heard of the pink ribbon campaign? It’s hard to miss. What are men told? Get a yearly exam? And how many really do? Let’s face it. There is one gender stereotype that has a lot of basis in fact. Men typically don’t discuss problems, especially health-related concerns, with their buddies. And often not even their family members. Women, on the other had, typically do. I have four sisters. We’ve had group discussions of aches and pains, menstrual issues, childbirth, mood swings, bathroom habits…you name it, we’ve discussed it. And with women, the discussions aren’t always limited to family members. It’s not at all out of the ordinary for a phone call from a girlfriend to start with, Can I ask you a personal question? followed by Have you ever experienced (xyz issue)? By this difference alone, women are more prone to make appointments with their doctor to check out something that doesn’t seem normal.
My dad’s cancer diagnosis was a shock. He got the confirmation just weeks before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, stomach cancer doesn’t always have early warning signs. But we all wondered. He suffered from heartburn for years. He’d drink Pepto Bismal and Alka Seltzer on an almost nightly basis. I remember my mother telling my dad more than once that he should go to his doctor. And I’m sure he did go at some point. But I’m also sure he wasn’t really persistent about issues, nor was he willing to go for every thing that may have felt strange. Like most men I’ve come across, that wasn’t his thing. But he’s one of the strongest men I know. And like my sister, he met his fate head on. Mayo clinic doctors are probably still talking about him. He had his stomach taken out and left the hospital ahead of schedule, in time to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us. In a wonderful, unexpected stroke of luck, his cancer had not spread, like a lot of stomach cancers do. He was blessed in that regard. But, of course, cancer has left an indelible mark on my dad. He’s literally almost half the size he used to be. Life has been drastically different for him. But he’s a survivor of a long, hard battle. Again, another courageous role model I look up to in my family.
I’m thankful today that I have the opportunity to help out with this fundraiser. It’s important. This one’s for my dad.