“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
– Anthony Bourdain
One day, after months of deflating from my last dose of steroids, I could finally see a shadow in my “inny.” A cheekbone in the mirror. My hardest body challenge to accept in myself, abdominal bloat, was gone – at least today. It was now or never, I thought. I may never get another shot.
I got the bikini. “Never stop doing things for the first time.”
In June, while we endure 90-degree temps with 9,000-percent humidity, swimsuits are already on sale to make room to dress for apple-picking, pumpkin-carving and out-trending others at school. But despite slim pickings during this “end-of-season,” there she was: not just a bikini, but my bikini: strap-free bandeau top, right size and clearance pricing. It practically came with its own boobs styled right into the cups. This was the one.
Being a Kate Spade also added the reality check of imminent loss: What if this is my last summer, too? “No Regerts,” as the failed tattoo memes say, and this summer indulgence happened.
“Sorry I’m late. I was rounding up all the gluten in the world and launching
it into space where it can’t not hurt
I already knew where my bikini would debut: Down East. Thanks to Stella’s Wish Foundation (www.stellaswish.org), my family and I were gifted with a stay at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. We prepare most of our own meals when we travel, but to streamline during this weeklong stay, I ate the same carbs as my family instead of my usual gluten-free versions, which caused my gut to bloat. My self-consciousness about exposing my belly kept resurfacing. How will this two-piece look to me after days of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and mini-boxes of cereal? Relentless rain only increased my anticipation.
“Yes, of course I am athletic. I surf the Internet every day.”
At last, a day of sun.
I excitedly put on the suit, and we headed to the beach. I took a deep breath. “This is what you’ve been waiting for,” I reminded myself. I pulled off the cover-up and readjusted the top. Mike took photos while I awkwardly strutted through the seaweed-strewn sand, pretending to be captivated by something “over here” or gazing “over there.” Sun warmed my skin in places it hadn’t seen since pre-Internet on the French Riviera. The silky fabric felt as if Neptune himself had cast a spell of luxurious softness. I gradually made my way into the ocean, and despite a couple of wave-induced breaches in my “upper deck,” I beamed sun-kissed smiles all day. I did it!
“People often say that ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder.”
– Salma Hayek
Thank you, breast cancer, for your strong nudges to open my heart and turn me to face my struggles head-on. To me, “now or never” fuels motivation to make daily decisions before conditions change and I no longer have those same options. In this case, pursuing the self-challenge of claiming my puffy tummy in public, and feeling beautiful doing it, was a healing step in my personal journey. Here’s what I’ve taken away from the experience so far:
• No one cares what bathing suit I wear to the beach. Do I like it? Yes!
• I set a course and followed through, deepening trust in myself.
• I am a degree or two less intimidated about how my torso exists in its ever-changing state. This Kate Winslet quote helped: “Nobody is perfect. I just don’t believe in perfection. But I do believe in saying, ‘This is who I am, and look at me not being perfect!’ I’m proud of that.”
• I have more energy when I’m not self-criticizing.
• “No Regerts.”
In closing, here’s the ultimate, bigger picture to me, perfectly illustrated in Mary Oliver’s poem, “October”:
the fox came down the hill, glittering and confident,
and didn’t see me – and I thought:
so this is the world.
I’m not in it.
It is beautiful.
Head On and Heart Strong!
Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.