Tag Archives: body image

Why I Posed Nude on National TV

The vision came to me in the shower. I saw myself standing naked at the mouth of an open cave in front of a reverse halo of blackness. Charise was there too, crouched down to take my picture. I remembered seeing her at that art opening last spring, and the open invitation to do a nude photo shoot. Maybe I should give her a call soon. Then, as these synchronicities tend to happen, she called me the very next day. She excitedly told me how she was just contacted by the Megyn Kelly Today show, and they wanted to feature her work, The Grace Project. She wanted to photograph me the very next week. Not only would I be posing topless for a photo shoot, but would be filmed showing my mastecomied chest— the after effects of breast cancer— to the entire world on NBC. To my own shock and disbelief, the word “yes” tumbled from my mouth!

I thought I would never, EVER pose topless on national TV. But I was never ever going to get breast cancer either, like Viola, the grandma I had never met.  She was ravaged by breast cancer and passed away at 58, about a year before I was born. I grew up hearing the myth, “Cancer often skips a generation,” but lived like I had fingers stuffed in my ears—la-la-la-la! Besides, I ate clean organic food, and I went to the gym. I was impervious to breast cancer until I found that lump in my breast when I was 36.

When my 3 year old son scampered over me, his little kick to the chest area drew my attention to this lump, the size of a nickel near my left areola. Even then I refused to think cancer. It must be a swollen lymph node from all the recent dental work, I thought. I was working as an office manager at a small chiropractic office at the time, and the doctor had just decided to drop our medical coverage a month before. It can’t be cancer. I can’t even go to the doctor right now.

Some divine timing took over because this happened to be 2014, the first year that enrollment in insurance marketplaces opened up, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. It would be another 5 months until I successfully navigated the goliath marketplace website, got a referral to a breast surgeon—and faced the fact that all the lymphatic massage and homeopathic medicine in the world wasn’t making this lump go away. In May of 2014 that illusion of cancer invincibility came crashing down with a diagnosis of an aggressive grade 3, stage 1, triple negative breast cancer.

I was the first woman in my line to benefit from the advances in genome mapping, and the first to test positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Now I could make choices knowing that I had an 85% risk of cancer recurrence if I kept any breast tissue, and that I had an elevated risk of a few other cancers. We found out my mom was also BRCA 1+, and she was able to have a prophylactic surgery, hopefully sparing her of ever getting breast cancer.  She told me how at 15 years old, she was terrified of her breasts and begged her pediatrician to remove them, even after seeing her mother’s butchered chest. Here she was finally getting her wish at 58, the same age her mother had died.

Charise Isis is half way through her mission to photograph 800 women who have had breast cancer and mastectomies, because that is roughly how many women are diagnosed with breast cancer each day in the U.S. But I couldn’t even consider being photographed when my friend first told me about The Grace Project in August of 2014. I was home nursing my incisions and steeling myself for the chemo treatments ahead. I looked like a Frankenstein Barbie with these hard, immovable implants shoved under my pectoral muscles, fresh red scars forming where my nipples once were and snaking towards my armpits. I was scared and angry at the absurdity of cancer. Some of The Grace Project women were smiling. All of the women in Charise’s photos looked so brave and strong. Would I feel this way someday too?

It would be a lie to portray this as one simple surgery. I had a Port-a-Cath installed and later removed—this would deliver the chemo right into a major artery or vein for distribution throughout the body. Then there was the infection in my breast and the ultrasound guided needle extraction to relieve some pressure, nerve-wrackingly close to my silicone implant. There was the round of IVF with egg retrieval to harvest some of my eggs before the chemical tsunami hit. I also had an augmentation surgery to make my chest more symmetrical. Then right before my 39th birthday I had my ovaries removed to protect against ovarian cancer, another high BRCA 1 risk.

I desperately wanted to move on with my life, but even though my hair grew back and I was rebuilding strength and stamina, there was still this looming cloud of fear and uncertainty. With triple negative cancer, there is this sense of being on high alert for 5 years following a diagnosis. If it comes back, it might do so in a big way, showing up in my bones, brain or organs. But if I can make it to this magic 5 year mark, the statistics show my chances of getting cancer drop back on par with national averages.

Cancerversaries, those dates of diagnosis, surgeries, and first or last treatments are very triggering for a cancer survivor.  That’s why I decided to get my chest tattooed on the 2nd anniversary of that July 14th mastectomy. I didn’t go for nipple tattoos either. For me faux nipples were a mocking symbol of pain and loss. To take that date back in a powerful way, my tattoo artist, Miranda Lorberer, helped me create a gorgeous design that would be mine alone. We created a sprawling organic design inspired by the fine linear Indian Mehndi tattoos, that combines spirals and florals and peacock feathers together. As she worked the ink into my skin, she told me how her dad had died of breast cancer when she was in high school. I could feel his presence in the room that day.

I met Charise in person at an art opening last fall. Seeing her beautiful images on large pieces of silk was otherworldly, like skin printed on skin, soft, flowy and feminine. I was still not one of the women in her pictures, but now I had a secret under my shirt. After having my breasts brutalized by surgery, after being poked, prodded and clinicalized by doctors at countless appointments, they were finally mine again. I felt rare and exotic, and wanted to keep my breasts secreted away for the boudoir. I was not ready for the camera.

Then came the call about the Megyn Kelly show. For a brief moment I felt scared to death to be filmed and photographed nude. Then I remembered I had already looked death in the face, and something broke free in me. I coach people every day to make powerful choices, to take meaningful risks. This was not a time for me to hide out. This “yes” was a resounding answer from deep in my cells, calling me forward to some unknowable place. I thought of the woman facing down her surgery, or sitting home hating her surgical drains and icing her chest. Maybe she would see my picture and begin to imagine her place in this world beyond the inky black uncertainty of her cancer diagnosis. Maybe I could offer a little hope when the light is dim.

I prepared for the photo shoot that day with a long bath, thinking about the talking points I wanted to cover while the camera crew filmed us. I made a mental list as I shaved and moisturized. I wanted to mention CharityNavigator, to think beyond pink ephemera when donating money towards cancer causes, and avoid those foundations that absorb a majority of funds towards administrative costs. I wanted to mention that often metastatic cancer research is underfunded—only 2% of funds going towards metastatic research is such a meek sliver of hope on the fundraising level. I wanted to encourage people to support local oncology programs, and individuals living with cancer in their own communities. I hoped to mention my coaching work and my blog, Melissashealinghope.

It was clear the producer had a very specific moment in mind, and my talking points were moot. With the cameras on me I felt raw, exposed, and vulnerable. I wondered how I would look. Who would see this? What would people say? This powerlessness was eerily reminiscent of those weeks around my diagnosis, when my hopes about having a certain surgery or working with a specific doctor were dashed. I was seeking a second opinion at Sloan Kettering when I learned that nipple sparing surgery wasn’t an option for me, that the ducts met in the nipple and could leaving them could lead to a cancer recurrence. Ironic how I could only be shown topless on TV without these little pieces of flesh, my innocent nipples offensive to my body and to the viewing public.

Standing there with the lens focused on me, Charise asked me to close my eyes, to breathe and feel my feet on the ground. Her soothing voice told me to send grounding roots deep down underground, and the camera jitters began to ease. With my eyes on the horizon, the camera crew faded. I thought of Milyn, Champagne Joy, and Karen. Once here, and now gone, leaving inexplicable holes where there used to be life. I thought of my friends still in the grips of their diagnosis, held in this dance between worlds. The cool air on my skin brought me back to the moment, and I looked into the camera. I never want to forget what a miracle it is to be.

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I found the hidden key to post-menopausal weight loss!

I once canceled an appointment with the oncologist because I felt like I was too fat.

Here’s what happened… The Dr. had been telling me for the last two visits that it was in my best interest to eat a sugar free, mostly fruit and vegetable diet -either that, or take the drug Tamoxifen. The later didn’t make sense as an option because when presented with the pamphlet, it said it was only effective for woman who had hormone+ cancers, AND that there was an increased risk of uterine cancer for those who took the drug! I also read something about needing to wear gloves when you wipe, and to make sure your children don’t come in contact with your urine by accident. huh? no thanks. The choice to focus on diet made sense to me.

But to be challenged to lose weight by the oncologist after surgical menopause, became a preposterous chore! My metabolism had flat-lined, and I had this new level of midsection muffin top! It didn’t seem to matter how much I worked out, or if I counted calories. I wasn’t seeing lasting change. Instead of facing the doctor with my failure (yeah right, lose 15 lbs in the wake of the Christmas season!) I bailed on the appointment.

Now, I love bodies of all shapes and sizes, but I personally felt weighted down.  I was always tired, chasing cups of coffee as the day wore on. Not only was my energy schlumpy, but my mind was foggy too. I was missing the edge and drive that a younger estrogen intact version of me use to feel.

But I have made a tremendous breakthrough!!! I just lost 10 lbs in one week without starving myself, buying into some big PLAN with products, OR exercising like a MANIAC!

In the past, I’ve tried all sorts of cleanses and ways of eating, from vegetarianism, to veganism, raw, gluten free and paleo, but what is rocking my world right now is my discovery of a KETOGENIC way of eating, or Keto diet. It really isn’t a diet per se. I would think about it as a life altering perspective shift in how you view food. It is a lifestyle change.

In the first 7 days of eating this way, I have lost 10 lbs, including 2″ off my waistline, and 3″ off of my hips. I have increased energy, stamina and focus. All prior gastrointestinal troubles I’ve had, are gone. No more bloating or gassiness. The best part of all is that I don’t feel plagued with intense cravings for sugar or carbohydrates. I don’t feel starved, hungry, deprived or limited in my food choices, and still I can’t – help – loosing -weight!

I have found a ton of Keto recipes, articles and blogs, and have learned ways to modify this diet for vegetarians. The biggest thing is that there is a complete elimination of sugar, processed foods and nearly all carbohydrates. Carbs convert to sugar, and if your body is running on glucose and fructose, you don’t burn the fat stores in your body. By starving your body of sugar and carbs, you turn into a fat burning MACHINE!

Ketosis is maintained by following a basic guideline of eating:

75% healthy fats, oils and non-starchy vegetables

20% protein

5% carbohydrates in the form of berries, and only a few other foods in small amounts.

This way of eating flies in the face of the SAD (Standard American Diet) we grew up eating. We have been force fed a food pyramid  that dictates that we eat lots of whole grains and carbohydrates, and pursue all things low-fat. Add to this, the travesty of processed food, which has tons of sugar, corn syrup, saturated fats, additives, preservatives and dyes.

I encourage everyone who has an inkling of interest in learning how to eat a healthier Ketogenic diet to watch a documentary that is out on Netflix right now called, The Magic Pill. It follows different people with a range of illnesses as they switch from a SAD diet to a Keto diet. Watch and see what happens! There are profound opportunities for healing and a better life waiting for people who are struggling with diabetes, high blood pressure, autism, neurological problems, gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune disorders, cancer, depression and poor self esteem.

I am so excited by this shift that I want to tell everyone I know. This way of eating is helping so many people, and might be just the shift you have been waiting for!

If you would like to learn about an opportunity to be a part of a group to share information and support, to fully step into a ketogenic, fat burning, energy filled life… if you want that group accountability and encouragement to lean on, send me an email today! I will share what I know, we will learn from each other, and from people who have been rocking this way of eating with great success for long periods of time.

 

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*MELISSA EPPARD is a certified Life Coach and Holistic Cancer Coach. When her son was only 3 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer. Now she coaches people through difficult transitions, teaches stress management techniques, and helps people live their best lives at any age or stage. She helps ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets, and lives by the belief that what you nurture will grow! www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

*Please note that I am not a dietitian, nutritionist or medical doctor, and am not giving health advice or nutritional plans. I seek to share information and inspiration based on my own experiences, and encourage everyone to do their own research. If you have a serious medical condition and take medication, you should continue to consult with your medical providers. 

 

As Good as it Gets

Where have you gotten lost and given up hope? Perhaps that place is so small, so stuffed down that you have nearly forgotten it all together. You know it though, that twinge of sorrow or regret, a little sigh of “maybe tomorrow “.

For me this came up in the form of, “This is as good as it gets. At least I am here.” Specifically, I am referring to the changes that surgery brought to my body. Here we peel back another layer, the residual effects such a radical alteration of the body may bring. So far in my writing I have processed shock and loss, grief and body image, sensuality and femininity. As I get closer to the one year anniversary of my July 15th double mastectomy, I notice that I still can not do all the things I have done before. I am feeling limited and restrained by this new body, the pectoral muscles lifted off my chest wall, these implants ever seeking to drift to the sides, pushing against the insides of my arms when unconstrained. The tightness of scar tissue always reminding.

I was once a fierce warrior princess, at least in the fantasy realm of my mind. Outwardly I felt no limitation. If I wanted something badly enough I could find a path to it. There was fierce determination to the point of recklessness. I hated to ask for help. Now I grapple with jars of pickles, with plank position in yoga. I feel geriatric in my attempts at stretching and I almost stopped at, “Oh, this is as good as it gets”….

until three weeks ago when I met my physical therapist. I seriously almost canceled my appointment because, look, I’m here. I’m alive. I can lift my son. I can carry a bag of groceries. This is as good as it gets. Right?

Keri did an in depth interview. Her no nonsense attitude and calm centeredness put me at ease, made me curious -let’s see where this can go. I have nothing to lose. After taking her measurements on my flexibility and strength, she got on her soapbox:

     This is unacceptable! I bet you thought, “oh this is the way it is now, right? I see so many people, women in particular, who just put their heads down, grit and bear it. That is no way to live! We can do better than that. We are going to get you strong and flexible again.”

This was akin to a Born Again experience. Keri just walked on water. I left there feeling so ignited and more hopeful than I have felt in almost a year. 

Will I return to mixed martial arts? Probably not, but what a gift to be handed back your hope! Each time I stretch and reach and lift I am building neural pathways and new muscle. I am pushing and growing for it is not enough to just be here.

I dare to want more.

Mastectomy Tattoo Options

I am still a ways off from being tattoo ready. There will be a period of healing after this next surgery. Just yesterday, my husband and I were discussing tattoos of fake nipples vs. some other type of tattoo to cover my scars. Mostly he wants me to feel happy with my body, but I could tell that he was baffled by the idea of some other image on my breasts. I could sense too that he misses those familiar pink areolas looking back at him.

Personally I am not interested in replicating nipples. They would serve as impostors and constant reminders of what was taken from me. Even the best, most realistic tattoo artist couldn’t change the way I feel inside about this. I saw a video today about P.ink Day and it made me tear up. I could so relate to these women. One of the women put it so perfectly when she talked about the fact that she didn’t choose this to happen, she didn’t choose these scars, but she could choose her tattoo. There is something so powerful about transmuting a difficult or negative experience into something you can own, to lift your head up, shoulders back and see yourself in the mirror… really See and Love yourself, and feel beautiful. It doesn’t take ink to do this, but for some it may help the metamorphosis into who you want to be now that your body and life have been forever altered. As they say on the P.ink Day website, “Breast Cancer doesn’t have to leave the last mark”.

Healing and Waiting

When I see pictures of myself, I think of my breasts. Was this picture taken back when they were my true originals, untouched by the surgeon’s blade? My eyes are telling too. Who was this carefree girl impervious to such destruction? I don’t like to be touched across my chest. It reminds me of how much I can’t feel. My scars are angry. My nipples are gone… a crude drawing on a misused Barbie doll.

This makes for new mapping in the body and the brain. My husband traces his fingers across my collarbone and I feel shivers. My girlfriends press in for a hug and I try to remember how a hug is suppose to feel, with all the sensation of it heavy in my arms. I am loved and accepted for who I am, celebrated for being here and for putting up a fight to live. But there is an ache in me. My body image has forever been altered, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel whole. (I am more than my body. I am more than this body.) I am cherished by my mate, but I don’t feel desirable anymore. This is something that truly must come from within, and I’m searching…

I make the best of this situation. I make jokes. I gladly will never wear a bra again. I’ll be the perkiest old lady on the block…But these scars are deeper than my skin. Maybe it will all fade with time.

Give it time.

Give me time…

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