The Obsolete Woman

obsoleteAs I’ve grown older and reached middle age, some days I creep about, fully expecting someone to leap out of a dark corner, pointing their finger at me and yelling, “Obsolete!”

My particular skill set and education really are from a previous age, that time when our culture lay its emphasis on the power of the written word and the influence of authors. With the rise of Twitter, memes, and pithy quotes, I’ve watched as the necessity of masterful storytelling has faded even as the ability to manipulate and create multimedia–whether images, videos, gifs, or whatever–has taken precedence.

Also, much of my work history has been in libraries. Go figure.

I’ve attempted to roll with the course of culture and have learned how to create websites and fashion my own images. And, for awhile, I even gained income by working online. Lacking in education as far as these new skills were concerned, I pursued my own knowledge through research and trial–with lots and lots of error thrown in for good measure.

There is still that feeling of being obsolete, of having only “spindly limbs and a dream.” Such an apt description of me, even now.

When I found myself in the Cancer Center of Kansas yet again in July of last year, I was confused and upset. I was supposed to be done with all of this, wasn’t I? I had been a survivor for twelve years, and here I was again with a brand new breast cancer and a diagnosis of Cowden Syndrome. Spindly limbs indeed.

Looking in the mirror, I see a thinner, weakened woman who looks a bit like an old man. Sparse hair, large glasses, and no breasts just complete the image. All I need now are plaid shorts, black crew socks, and sandals.

Definitely obsolete as far as being “sexy” is concerned. I can’t remember now where I heard this, but in one movie–most likely a Lifetime movie–the middle-aged woman talks about being “invisible” to men. That certainly seems to be true in my own experience. No longer feminine…no longer working…and not yet at the “crone” stage of womanhood, although I seem to be reaching that at a far younger age than I ever expected due to the effects of cancer treatment.

“Past my prime” and unemployed, I seem to fit the description of “obsolete” more and more these days.

Our culture would echo that of The Chancellor, declaring, “You’re a bug…an ugly misformed little creature who has no purpose here, no meaning.” In the episode, refusing to be defined by the State and its culture, Romney Wordsworth responds, “I am a human being!”

And that, ultimately, is where his strength lies. The character of Wordsworth, filled with faith, refuses to be humiliated and denigrated. His trust remains with God and the power of the written word, even until the last.

In his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life, Craig Groeschel says that God made us to “trust him to redeem your pain with his power.” No matter what has happened–or is happening–in my life, God can bring something good out of all of it.

My future is honestly up in the air right now. But there’s still hope. Groeschel goes on to say,

“Your story is not over….You have more chapters to write, more victories to win, more friends to meet, more of a difference to make, more of God’s goodness to experience. Even though you may not like the plot so far, with God’s help, you can transform your story into one you’re not ashamed to share. You can start something new.”

I’m trying to hang my hat on that hope for the moment.

As with the character of Wordsworth, I can declare that I won’t be defined by the “State” or our culture. Responding to a seemingly impossible situation with knowledge and faith, I can perhaps live to tell my own tale. And oddly, just like Wordsworth, I’ll bring my seemingly useless skills to our current technology and media to do so.

And I won’t forget that it was Wordsworth’s reaction to his impending death that makes the most impact in the end. His faith helps him to respond with strength and peace, as opposed to The Chancellor’s desperate appeal for escape from his untimely demise.

In the Mirror

in-the-mirrorHaving had many surgeries, I am familiar with the feeling of seeing scars for the first time. Whether it was the odd bulge of the port protruding from my chest or the strange caved-in area on my leg where a large tumor was removed, I knew that it could be difficult to assimilate these things into my idea of myself.

But this surgery, this has been something much different.

Although I had looked at plenty of pictures of women who had gone “flat,” I suppose I wasn’t really prepared for how I would look after my surgery. Looking at my newly flat chest, I don’t see me. It’s someone new in the mirror now.

Regarding my surgery, I have been told many things by other women, including:

Well, you weren’t using them [my breasts] anyway, so it doesn’t matter, right?

You should just be glad to be alive!

You’re almost through with all of this, and then you can move on with your life!

At least you won’t have to wear a bra any more!

Just think positively!

Hearing these statements, I didn’t feel consoled.

Going through cancer treatment involves a lot of loss. From the first diagnosis to the last treatment, patients like myself must confront the continuing changes in our bodies and our lives. Even after one loss is accepted, another lies ahead. And for many, this cycle of scan, treatment and more can last a lifetime.

I agree with Nancy’s Point that women are often made to feel guilty about grieving after their mastectomy.

The truth? I miss the old me. I miss having breasts. 

At this point, I don’t know who I am seeing in the mirror. My chest is mainly numb with some areas of shooting pain, neither of which helps to make a connection with the “new” me. There’s nothing I see in the mirror now that resembles myself.

Sparse hair sticking up out of my scalp, thinner after chemo, and a flat chest. That is what I see in the mirror. And there will be even more changes to come in the new year with radiation treatment, hysterectomy, and anti-estrogen therapy.

The rapid nature of diagnoses, scans, treatments, and surgeries provides little time to think about all of this. It often leaves you gasping for air, desperately searching for a break in the busy-ness of cancer. But there are always more doctor’s appointments, and always more shocks that must be quickly accepted, or more likely, pushed back into the darkness where they are often hidden behind a forced bravado.

The scars are beginning to heal, but it will be awhile before I can accept them as part of my new “normal.”

I don’t feel brave, and I’m not a warrior. Right now, I’m just tired.