August McLaughlin’s “Beauty of a Woman” Blogfest starts up today, with all of the posts listed together at August’s blog tomorrow. Last year, more than 40 people joined in and I’m proud to participate this year.
Note: Click here to see all the 2013 posts.
The poem by Sam Levenson that inspired August to start BOAW conveys the dignity, kindness and grace that comprise the wonderful mosaic of woman.
Here’s the beginning:
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
Good stuff, huh?
Today’s topic isn’t my usual. It’s not fluffy or fun…and there are no undies in sight.
I grew up with an oncology nurse, so cancer has always been a presence in my life, but this year it got a whole lot more personal.
Cancer burst into my inner circle, traveling on the breasts of three women – the sisters of my heart, my co-workers, my friends. Three women I know well have been diagnosed with and undergone treatment for breast cancer in the last eighteen months.
It’s been stunning and heartbreaking and surreal. And sobering as hell.
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
I’ve found myself crying over the indignity of their chemo and the intensity of their pain, raging at their cancer and wishing I could choke this malevolent adversary to death myself.
I’ve watched these tumors steal their breasts, their fertility, their hair, their nipples.
Throughout their journey, the clear message is that this particular form of cancer attacks all the parts of their body that are uniquely feminine, at least in our society.
Truly, the breasts were just the tip of the issue.
What about their hair? For most women, hair is not just the protein-wrapped DNA strands that sit atop the head. Hair is beauty, nervous habit, fashion statement, status, self-esteem.
For one of my besties, her long blonde hair is such a part of her identity that she fought to keep it through eight rounds of chemo. She rented a cold cap and hired a consultant to help her manage it. In the end, she won the battle and kept her hair.
Another friend, a gorgeous black woman, wore wigs after her hair fell out, even though the pins that secured them permanently scarred her head. She refused to wear her scarves to work because they made her feel naked.
Hair wasn’t just hair to these women, at least not when they began their cancer journey.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge you’ll never walk alone.
What about the other pieces of self-esteem they hold dear? Their nails? Their weight? Their ability to have more children?
What about their breasts??
3% of American women have breast implants. I live in Southern California, where I’m sure that number is much higher.
Obviously in our society, the breast is perceived as an essential ingredient of female identity.
My gal-pal with the wigs has been waiting eight months for reconstructive surgery that will give her back some nipples. Yes, they’ll be tattoos, but – as she puts it – “It’s bizarre for a woman to be missing her headlights.”
She’s got a point.
These last eighteen months have made me ponder what pieces of the female mosaic define beauty.
Do breasts make the woman? I no longer think so.
Here’s what I’ve seen this year that gives me tear-gulping moments of pride and reverence, and appreciation in the sheer femaleness of my friends’ beauty:
The warmth of their friendship with other women.
The love and grace that I see between women friends is a rare and powerful form of beauty. They keep both their children and each other’s secrets, tucked safely inside their hearts.
As the child of a single mother, I was formed from a collection of mothers who shared one heart and many brains. These gals might have had dreadful taste in men, but they were loaded with brains and laughter. When I think of beauty, I think of that rolling orchestra of joy and playfulness that existed between my mother and her circle of friends.
Their life wisdom and grace.
As I mentioned above, one of my friends is at the beginning of her journey but the others are, thankfully, at the end of their process. They’re past the mastectomies and chemotherapy, and moving through the pain of breast reconstruction.
The two who just came through that fight-to-the-death aren’t grieving over their pain and suffering.
They’re grateful to be alive and able to hold their loved ones close. They’ve both humbled me by counting the blessings and lessons they learned from cancer, rather than mourning the breast(s) they lost.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair.
The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.
The beauty of a woman is in the strength of her soul.
What defines beauty for you? Has breast cancer touched your life? In what way? What lessons did you take away from the experience?
Wishing you a week filled with beauty and grace…