On breast cancer and community

I recently had a story accepted by Wildfire Magazine for their Community issue (August/September 2021) – in it, I went back and looked at my life before the point where provisions of the Affordable Care Act, social media, and my stage of personal growth would intersect in a positive way. Part of that was the sense of living in the past, of trying to honor the rules of the past, and avoid the challenges of the future – I didn’t see it then, but I understand it much better now. Let’s say that a total mastectomy without reconstruction was a radical act back in 2007 – I didn’t fully embrace the importance of it until recently.

Covid’s lockdown period gave us all a lot of time in isolation or near-isolation, and I spent much of it thinking. That evolved into exploring how others with breast cancer were expressing themselves on social media, mostly Instagram. What I found was that it was possible to turn away from the narrative of social media as shallow and devoted to enforcing the status quo avatars of youth, beauty, weight, race, and wealth…by consciously NOT identifying with it or following it. The notion of empowerment contains the idea that YOU are in control of your world, you are not merely absorbing whatever comes your way. You are not passive; you are active. Finding a community where this is a given – well, that’s a great and powerful collective. In the community of other women who chose to not have reconstruction after breast cancer surgery, I found more and more of myself, and was able to stop projecting a wholeness I didn’t actually feel anymore, but was still ok with. That sounds weird, right? We think we’re supposed to strive for wholeness, but for me, that means struggling to grasp something that’s gone forever, and that’s not healthy or practical.

As a personal trainer, I meet & train people who have their own versions of wholeness and the lack of it, and see people in various points on their journey to understanding what’s really important to them, and what their most meaningful goals are. It’s my privilege to be a part of their search for more tools for their journey, and I believe that my experience with cancer turned my mind inward, to find ways to relate to others in that struggle. No matter where someone is on the path to understanding themselves, a true community is made up of people who believe we all get richer the more we enrich each other, and I see teaching fitness – exercise or core concepts – as enrichment of the people I interact with. And each one of them gives me so much back.