Written on the Body is a novel by Jeanette Winterson. A book about lovers, one who has cancer. It is the first time I read a book about love and loss, and it resonated, even in my 20s. There was a passage about finding a stray hair on the collar of a coat, the hair of her beloved, now deceased. I recall when this first happened to me; finding a hand written note from a friend, deceased, in amongst some unrelated papers, and how it bit right to the core.
Winterson writes so beautifully on the way in which finding such a memento can devastate. But the book is also about metamorphosis. Moving from one image of oneself to another (Ok, I think it is.)
I have over the last year and a half gone through my own transformation. Emotionally, yes, and you have borne witness to it. However, there is something nagging at me which needs to out. Truth be told, I physically feel like a different person. I am no longer the Kate from before. I am Kate from now. And it is a difficult thing to wrestle with, this change in my physicality. I can look in the mirror and not recognize myself. I barely know who this person is and it freaks me out.
In my mind's eye, I am 130 lbs, evenly distributed over a 5 ft 7 in frame, with long blond hair and blue eyes. Funky glasses. Colourful dresser. In the mirror, I am pushing 150 lbs with short stubby reddish hair, and fold of flesh where none where before - bloated from drugs and chemotherapy. Also, huge parts are missing. I am a deformed version, with more fat and less hair. And basic black with some colour. This sounds so terrible when I say it, but frankly, it's needed to out. I need to face it, and acknowledge. I am barely recognizable to myself, and what I see, I don't like.
People say "You look great" - when we meet. My friend Ginny a while back sent me an article from the Star on what to say / what not to say to someone with cancer. Right at the top of the list was - best not to say "You look great" - even better, don't talk about how they look - or something to that effect. Basically, don't point out the glaringly obvious. Focus on how happy you are to see them, not on what they look like - because obviously, it's changed.
At first I thought that was bunk; who cares!? but now, I completely 100% absolutely get it. I really feel people are actually lying to me when they say that. Because, we all know, I do not look great. Or more, I do not look like before. How could I? Last week, at the zenith of shittiness physically, bloated like a beached whale, and kitted out in new size "14" shirt - there was no way I looked "great." I had coffee with a girlfriend, and I thought to myself, Oh My God. I used to look like that. I used to have a recognizably female form. I had two boobs. Shirts fit me, for God's sake. I had a head of hair to be proud of. My lips did not have a greyish-vampire like pallor.
I mourn this loss, just like I mourned the loss of large part of my body and my hair last year. This time around, it's my waistline that has gone AWOL. Along with the slender wrist, the svelte neck. Everything has a new benchmark of size. For me, it's horrible. And I am tired of people telling me not to worry about it or let it bother me. Why must I be relentlessly positive about it? Of course, there is no answer, no right or wrong. Because you know, cancer writes itself on the body indelibly and you get what you get. I will never go back to that form - that Kate is irretrievably gone.
So, cancer has written itself all over my body and I fucking hate it. There it is.