I always wanted to be long, lean and lithe, like models on the catwalk during fashion week, looking exceptional in everything from sweats to haute couture. But I am not long and lean. At 5’2”, I am short and strong, far more muscular than I am lean.
Over the last two months, I went through seven weeks of cancer treatment that targeted the most intimate part of my body. I have anal cancer, and when I first learned about this diagnosis, I laughed out of embarrassment. Who gets anal cancer? Who wants to talk about anal cancer? I had to Google search ‘the anus’ just to visualize the what and where of my own body. I was not intimate with this part of my body, but I was about to begin that journey.
I HAD TO GOOGLE SEARCH ‘THE ANUS’ JUST TO VISUALIZE THE WHAT AND WHERE OF MY OWN BODY. I WAS NOT INTIMATE WITH THIS PART OF MY BODY, BUT I WAS ABOUT TO BEGIN THAT JOURNEY.
Treatment for this particular cancer involved both radiation and chemotherapy. The radiation treatment does the heavy lifting, and the chemotherapy makes the radiation more effective. The goal of the radiation treatment is to kill the cancer cells without destroying too many healthy ones along the way. During the treatment itself, you lay very still in a machine for some relatively short period of time, while beams of intense energy are directed at the parts of the body where the cancer is detected. Radiation treatment for my cancer covered the pelvic region, where all the most personal, private and vulnerable body parts reside. My entire GI tract was in the field of radiation, as were my bladder and kidneys. Radiation of the pelvic region could also impact the female anatomy, given its close proximity. All those important parts of my body, parts I can’t see, were subject to immense beams of energy intended to kill off unwanted and unfriendly cells.
Initially I didn’t notice too many side effects of the radiation, but radiation is cumulative, so over time, your skin starts to look as if you’ve been out in the sun too long, and then suddenly you are dealing with severe sunburn-like symptoms in places the sun rarely sees. Let’s just say, I didn’t look too far off from a baboon in heat. Three or four times a day I had to treat those burns to make sure they didn’t get too irritated. I got really comfortable with my own body in ways I never imagined possible.
THIS EXPERIENCE MADE ME WONDER, HOW CAN WE BE INTIMATE WITH ANOTHER HUMAN BEING IF WE AREN’T INTIMATE WITH OUR OWN BODIES?
This experience made me wonder, how can we be intimate with another human being if we aren’t intimate with our own bodies? And reaching intimacy with our own bodies begins with self-acceptance — which takes me back to the beginning. Through this journey, I’ve learned to love my short and strong body. It carried me through radiation and chemotherapy, a regimen not for the faint of heart. That strength kept me grounded and helped me rebound quickly. I found a new intimacy with my own body, a comfort with parts of my anatomy that always made me somewhat uncomfortable. I hope this newfound intimacy lasts.