PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO JOIN THE CONVERSATION, YOU CAN DO SO ANONYMOUSLY.
Seated on one one side of the room, a 26 year old girl in active treatment. Almost directly across the room, a woman who, three times in a span of two minutes practically shouted, "Can you please speak up? I'm hard of hearing." A messy situation was playing out in front of my very eyes. I could see how this was about to get very ugly. Naturally, I was seated RIGHT BESIDE Mrs. Hard of Hearing. I'm a magnet for this stuff.
I was a participant in a group seminar about body image and coping with the changes caused by cancer. It was a lively discussion facilitated by a social worker. I had no idea what to expect. I was clueless as to how many people would show up and I was quite curious to see the group demographic. Two best friends, one a survivor, the other just weeks post surgery visiting from out of state. Another woman who lives in Israel and who was in NY visiting her father.... who just happened upon the group, and I might add, whose husband is a plastic surgeon, AND she will not let her husband see her scars. Someone else who clearly had an agenda (maybe she was looking to start a group of her own?) who began to annoy me from the moment she opened her mouth.
The floor was open for comments and in a very Susan Boyle moment, the first words came from a woman who seemed to be of middle eastern descent, dressed very conservatively.... I mean, she wasn't in a burka or donning a scarf, but still, quite conservative and appeared to be in her mid 40's. I'm a horrible judge when it comes to assessing the age of pretty much every person I ever meet. I suspect that is because I have one of those funny mirrors and when I look at myself, I still see 30-something. I digress.
Words begin to float across the room and I was hearing things I did NOT expect to come from this woman's mouth ...... Immediately, I felt like I was struck by a bolt of lightning. I'm sure I leaned into the circle and I HOPE I had my Gaga poker face goin' on because this woman shocked me. "I want a man and what man is ever going to want to have sex with me?" Instantly, there was chatter all over the room. It took all of 15 seconds for a group of over 30 women to start discussing how they yearn to have A Man in their lives. I felt like I was in Sex and The City, The Cancer Version.
I DID participate, I wasn't sitting like a voyeur.... I DO have issues.... totally confident in clothing.... AND, apparently I have the ability to be happy with my appearance because I found photos of myself in a medical journal and before I realized it was ME, I was very impressed with that particular set of photographs. Funny, when I looked at myself objectively, I really liked what I saw. Then something jumped out at me and I began to take a closer look at the photos, realized they were of me and immediately, I was critical of every mark. I did share that with the women in the group.
Because of the size of the group and the time constraints, I chose to listen after I shared my own experience. As I listened, I began to realize that every single woman in that circle was beating herself up over her appearance. Hearing the same feeling expressed a dozen different ways and I began to look through a different prism. It began to upset me. I wanted to shake these women. I wanted to steal a bit from Martin Luther King. I wanted to shout, "It is NOT about our scars. It IS about the content of our character, the kindness in our hearts, the purity of our souls and plenty of other things. We are not defined by our scars."
It was quite clear to me. Why would any woman want to be intimately involved with anyone who made an issue of those scars? It was so easy for me to step outside of myself and have such clarity. I believed it. I felt it deep within me.
Those feelings were solidified when Mrs. Hard of Hearing began to speak and she was far from being the source of any trouble as I feared. Instead, she charmed all of us. At 69 years old and living with her mate, she explained how she lost her hearing and how, despite living for decades with the same man, she too had issues. Her wit had me grinning and her wisdom was priceless.
The scars don't matter. Silicone and tattoos don't mean a thing. Right up until I rejoined my body and there I was, in that exact same emotional place with every other woman in that room. I've come far, just not far enough.