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To Loathe or Love Myself: That Is the Question

First I Chose Loathing

Self loathing or self loving? Which to choose after my initial Stage 2 diagnosis six years ago?
When confronted face to face with one’s mortality I chose the self loathing route after hearing
the words, “You have cancer”. Questions such as how could my body fail me or what did I do
wrong continued to haunt me until I proclaimed myself “cancer free”; and then the self loathing
stopped. Life began to return to normal and, as I felt my body becoming stronger every day, I
began to trust myself again.

Unfortunately 2014 produced another bomb when I learned the cancer cells had metastasized
to my bones. It was the lowest point in my life and, despite my first response to curl up in a
fetal position and let loose a bloodcurdling scream, I realized the act of self loathing would not
change my diagnosis nor cure the cancer. A hard lesson to digest but one that helped make a
difference in my attitude towards this new life changing prognosis. The first time it was easy to
slip down into the tunnel of darkness and wallow but once down that hole nothing seemed
right and life simply felt too complicated to keep going.

But keep going I did. After briefly thinking this was it, I was dying and I might as well give up; I
had a revelation of how to tackle this next obstacle in life. I don’t recall exactly what happened
but all I know it was my “Aha” moment of, “damn it”, I am better than this. Would I let this
cancer make me hate myself again? Will I allow it to take one more thing from me?

And Then I Chose Love

The answer was no. I made the decision to embrace self love to maintain my sanity and my
wellbeing. To do that I had to prioritize the new me—cancer included. After extensive
research on this disease, and with my husband on board, I embarked on an educational
campaign so others would not be in the dark when receiving a terminal diagnosis. A purpose of
taking a different direction began percolating in my brain.

Reaching out to others would be my salvation of sorts so how could I find a way to make this my purpose? I began reviewing my life and reflected on what made me feel in control. I had always been a swimmer and knew the physical as well as mental benefits of this exercise would be the answer to my newfound cause. Somehow I convinced my husband and myself if I swam across a lake maybe I could spread the message about the lack of information and funding for metastatic breast cancer.

It was a long shot in the dark but in the early months of my second diagnosis, I needed a diversion and a focus. After the first few swims the media became interested and helped our cause. My voice became louder and more persistent with my urgent message that we are dying at an alarming rate and there is no cure. Surprisingly people listened, began donating money and offered me places to swim so I could spread the word. Along the way I discovered my purpose—being a metastatic breast cancer advocate.

I have reclaimed who I am by reaching out to others and more importantly, loving myself unconditionally.

What does this have to do with self love? Firstly, I had to feel comfortable enough in my own
skin to get up and speak in front of groups of people and convince them to donate their money
to a worthwhile cause. Secondly, I had to love myself to be confident in my message so people
would believe our mission was crucial and needed action today. And lastly, I had to show
everyone that I loved myself enough to put everything I had on the line because it was that
important. I had to love me—cancer and all.

How did I do that? I began with a practical approach by enrolling in a Dale Carnegie class to
polish up on my speaking skills. This gave me the confidence I needed to speak clearly and to
the point. I did self care through reiki, massages and yoga. All three of these practices worked
to clear my mind and strengthen my body. Meditation was added and with the combination of
the other three I felt love of myself beginning to enfold. I put me first and asked for help when
needed or could deliver a firm no if it didn’t fit into my agenda . Self love came slowly because
the ugly head of cancer would rise out of nowhere and trigger a response of being scared to
death (pun intended) when least expected. It is work to continually remind myself I am worthy
and loved but deep in my gut I know that is what I need to do. Love my self—cancer, loss of
hair and all.

However, with the new diagnosis I realized that this is what my life looks like for now and ever
more. It sometimes saddens me to think of all the future doctor’s appointments, medication
changes and ongoing side effects; and the list will continue without a reprieve but I’m okay
with that. I have reclaimed who I am by reaching out to others and more importantly, loving
myself unconditionally.

Yes, there are days when I feel myself slipping into a wallowing pit and it scares me about what
could be around the corner with this disease, but then I remember my accomplishments in the
three and half years since my stage IV diagnosis and realize I could not have done all this
unless I practiced self love…and so I do.


  • In 2012 Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing the expected lumpectomy surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Mary thought she was done. Almost two years later she received a call that she had been subconsciously dreading, a call she'd hoped to never ever get. Her breast cancer had metastasized, spread to the bones in her hip. Mary decided to focus her days doing something that she loved. Swimming. And bringing attention to MBC.

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