The Power of No

 

Something new happened this week. I said no. You see, I have a hard time saying no. You probably are familiar with my type – nice, agreeable, a people pleaser. I stepped out of my affable behavioral pattern to say no to something that would have affected my self-respect and value as a human being. I not only said no, I stuck up for myself.

Acknowledging my people pleasing character flaw at the age of 48 has been a huge detriment to my life as a grown-ass woman. I apply my unfortunate characteristic to any type of relationship whether it be co-workers, family members I haven’t seen in years, romantic interests. My flaw does not discriminate. It opens the door to all types of folks from all walks-of-life. Anyone who encounters me gets my very best…and more. That “and more” part? That is where the problem lies.

I market myself as a warm, giving human and while there is nothing wrong with said attributes, I seem to move well beyond a caring individual and create this whole other platform in which to sell my duties as a friend or companion. Part of the issue with people pleasing is that I’m naturally an extrovert. I’ve always worked in career positions where my paycheck relies on building relationships with other people in a community. My unique self-branding skills are a big part of my appeal. Still, my personality type is not an excuse for allowing other people to take advantage of me.

I am trustworthy; therefore, I assume everyone I meet is extending the same courtesy. When you assume the people you meet are trustworthy, and you are a people pleaser who has trouble saying no, you put yourself in a vulnerable position. For some reason I completely forget my own self-worth, my core values and boundaries. I get stuck into doing what someone else wants without expressing my own needs. The worst part is that when I don’t put myself first it lessens my significance. It robs me of my dreams. It breaks my heart.

I called my very best friend and told her about my big, “just say no” power move. I told her how someone attempted to lessen my self-worth and I squashed it with brevity. She asked what made me stand up for myself this time. I think it is due to my upcoming explant surgery, my choice to go flat. I chose to take control over my body and in turn, it has offered me a sense of empowerment that I have never felt before – a strength I never had. I feel that making the choice to go flat has given me great value. Now that I’ve allowed myself value, it has shaken my core, gifting me with more power. The power to say no.

I have to admit I’m ashamed I didn’t catch on to this “learning to say no thing” until now. I suspect other women have similar experiences. What is the turning point for us? What must happen to achieve self-love before we find ourselves drowning in the demands of others? For me it took an incredible, life-altering decision that will change my body and my mentality forever. I’ve had other significant life events that directed me on a path of self-discovery, but none of those events turned me into the powerful being I am at this moment. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time being afraid to say no for fear that people wouldn’t like or respect me.

This week the word no worked for me. I think I might use it more often.

Dating, Sex, and Empowerment

I’ve been thinking about what dating will be like without breasts. Not that dating WITH boobs is a walk in the park, but I suppose I’m worried about limiting my dating pool when potential partners discover my body sans boobs. Who can blame a man, really? Boobs are wonderfully attractive. I’m a straight middle-aged woman and I LOVE a great set of tits. A woman with beautiful curves is a sexy woman, in my opinion.

I never lacked in the boob department. I had fantastic, big boobs. I loved them, my friends loved them, and men in my life loved them. I remember when I was a newlywed and my mother-in-law, in her chipper tone advised, “If you’ve got them, flaunt them!” I was never a woman who flaunted her breasts. Even my mother tried to get me to wear low-cut tops more often. My senior year of high-school the boy who had a locker next to mine put his hands on my shoulders, looked at my chest and exclaimed, “Melissa! I’ve watched you grow through the years!”. He was a friend and we had the same last name so we shared the same commons space all through high school. Indeed, he did watch me grow!

I didn’t hide my curves, but I didn’t show them off much either. Turtlenecks and loose tops were my standard. I regret that now. If I had known I would lose my breasts at the age of 46 I would have entered armature night at the local strip club a long time ago. I would have strapped myself into a demi-cut, push-up bra for a girls-night-out. No shame. Just unabashed voyeurism. Womanhood in all of its glory. (Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t be caught dead swinging from a pole.) What I would have done is used my breasts to elicit a bit more feminine prowess.

While it is true that I didn’t expose my cleavage as much as I could have, my sexual identity revolved around my boobs. The problem is that I didn’t realize this until they were gone. The door to my sexual self, resided under my shirt. I placed so much value on them – my value as a woman. Yes, there were times I was annoyed with my big, laborious chest. They made buying clothes very difficult. They made me look fat in photos. They would get very sore during menstruation. After children and with age they changed. Still, I loved that part of my body and occasionally, so did others. In rare moments, there were times that a man would look at me like a dish of ice cream just waiting to be devoured. I will never forget a man bravely telling me I had “fat tits”. It sounds so vulgar, but to him it was a compliment. I tossed my hair and playfully thanked him. I worry I’ll never be looked at like a dish of ice cream again.

This process of going flat is about self-love. I am learning to throw caution to the wind and take this risk. I am not doing this for the approval of others, for a man’s love. No, I am doing this for me. This is truly the most empowering moment in my life.

Welcome To The Club

After announcing on social media that I’m going to have my reconstructed mastectomy implants removed to “go flat” some of my small-breasted girlfriends reached out welcoming me to the flat-girl club, or the no-boobies club. You know what I’m talking about – the itty bitty titty committee. I adore all of my “70’s disco titty” friends for reaching out to me, but here is the thing – your idea of being flat and my reality of being flat are completely different versions of flat!

Look, I get it. I know you’re trying to make me feel better and I love you for that. I do not mean to depreciate your support. However, while you have a feminine curve, no matter how small, I’ll be concave. While you have the sexy look of a breast and nipple, I will have a long scar and wrinkled skin. While you can feel sexual arousal, I am numb. While you have clothes that lay over you, showing off your model-size breasts, I’ll be struggling with the idea of letting the fabric of my shirt sink into my chest. While you feel the touch of your lover, I’ll be struggling with showing my body to another.

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Reality

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries.

My journey is much harder on my psyche than I expected. The process of filling the tissue expanders was much more painful than my doc explained. If you have gone through breast cancer you may have noticed that the medical community doesn’t focus much on the healing process. Maybe it is just my experience, but I feel that they don’t warn you of what something is going to feel like. Not just physically, but emotionally too.

Take the experience of tissue expanders as an example. Yes, I had an appointment in a medical office that explained the mechanics of what would happen, but they skipped over a lot of parts that make up an experience as a whole. The first time I had a “fill” I came home and went to bed. I couldn’t get a muscle relaxer and pain killer in me soon enough! Strangely, the pain was a pulling feeling in my shoulders down into my back. I didn’t go into work that day as my body was too achy. I had no idea I’d feel this way. No one told me.

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Help

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries

I struggled with what people might think of me going public with my breast cancer experience. Yet, I keep writing because that is how I process and it is a significant part of my mental healing. What I’ve found through my public journal is that people are responding to it in ways I never expected.

In the world of social media we measure a persons fondness towards us through likes and comments. Frankly, the likes and comments on a post are not what matter most. It is when a friend calls me personally to tell me he reads my diaries. Or, when I run into someone at the grocery store who makes a point to compliment my openness and encourages me to keep revealing more.

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Amnesia

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries

During my recovery in January of 2016 I kept a small basket with books, journals, candy and other various sundries that I might need next to my bed. It was overflowing so I decided to rummage through the pile to see what could be tossed out. I came across a small white box. Inside was a key chain of an Airstream trailer. Immediately, I knew it belonged to my Grandfather. I had this faint memory of finding it one day in my Mother’s house several months before. I remembered thinking that I really liked that key chain because it reminded me of my grandparents home growing up.
My grandfather owned a business and the minute he made his first million dollars he sold the company and the house, packed up my grandmother and bought the biggest Airstream trailer and brand new Chevy Sububan he could find. He and my grandmother traveled in that trailer for over thirty years. In the summers they would come back to Michigan from the Southwest, or Florida, or Alaska, or where every they had wandered. The Airstream would be parked for a couple of weeks in our driveway in the middle of suburbia. I thought everyone’s grand parents lived like this.
I loved that big, silver bullet of a trailer. I would walk around to the door and knock on the clover-shaped grate that protected the screen. Once inside my two elderly grandparents would be watching Gun Smoke and playing “marbles” – a board game similar to Chinese Checkers. I would gaze around at their minimal decor fascinated by the red candy jar filled with “old people” mints. You know the soft white peppermint candy that feels and tastes like a piece of chalk? Red was a theme in the trailer. They also had polished petrified wood with a deep red gleam tucked into a small corner as decoration. The seductive color of those fossils stick in my memory.
Back to the key chain. When I saw it in my pile of things next to my bed I immediately called my mother to tell her what I found. I didn’t know where it came from or how it turned up in my room, 250 miles away from her home where I first discovered it.

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Nightmares

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries

This is a very difficult entry for me to write. But, I have to write because writing is therapy for me.

Since the mastectomy (about two weeks ago) I’ve had terrible dreams. No, not dreams. Nightmares. I dream that something is being destroyed. It could be a towering inferno to a burnt pot-roast. Sometimes it is Thanksgiving dinner that catches on fire, ruining the beautiful turkey. Fire and skin are the running themes that posses my REM sleep cycle. The destruction is different each night, but they all add up to irreversible damage.

The night before last was so bad that I can’t believe my brain let me imagine such things. I needed to talk about it so I made myself tell my oldest daughter. It was difficult to describe because the destructive action in the dream was ME doing the harm. And, at the same time, it was me trying to repair the harmed. The dream was about a beloved pet dog. I was trying to put her skin back to together after realizing that I had somehow burned her. It was unclear how I damaged her skin, yet I had the understanding that it was me who did the damage. The part I remember clearly was trying to put her back together as if nothing had happened. It was my fault she was “broken” and my responsibility to “fix” her.

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Bras

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries

So, my doctor gave me a bra. I went to see her so she could check my tissue expanders and drains. She announced that the bra was a gift. She even accentuated the word, gift as if it would be delivered in a Tiffany-blue box. Naturally, I was a little excited. A new bra is not cheap. I pictured the intimates section at Macy’s and imagined what she might hand to me. Once I saw the thin plastic sheath in which the bra was presented my fantasy of La Perla came crashing to the floor.

Lemme tell you about this bra. It was made of stretchy satin. It was tan, yet erred on the side of brown pantyhose. It had what seemed like a million hooks in the front. It met strict safety requirements as to avoid the drains that stick out of the skin under my arms. Lovely, yes?

She gave me this thing that had no bells or whistles. It made me look like a man wearing a bra for a Halloween costume. No. no. no. no. I do not want to wear it. Like, ever. I don’t even want to ever wear any kind of bra ever again.

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Pink

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries

I walked into work this morning and noticed pink ribbons on the front doors of the college’s Administration building. The ribbons were printed on white copy paper and cut out, taped to the glass.

Odd.

Continuing along the hall to my office I saw pink holiday ornaments with pink ribbons tied to office door handles. It was quieter than expected too. No one was settling into their morning with the usual chatter and that seemed especially strange because it was the office holiday party that day. I assumed there would be excitement before our break, yet it was so still.

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Grades

The Facebook Posts – Mel’s Cancer Diaries

I decided to earn my Master’s degree so I can advance in my career and in the fall semester of 2015 I registered for classes. My University decided that my credit for accounting and statistics were too out-of-date to transfer. With a heavy sigh, I registered for basic accounting. I work at a community college so I took the accounting class with one of our professors. Plus, I thought the added benefit of knowing the instructor would help me tackle my most hated classroom subject – mathematics.

I have made a career out of avoiding math. Hell, I could teach a class on how to grow up to be a middle-aged woman with a decent career and never have to deal with numbers. I sweat just thinking about fractions. I’m the person who trusts the cashier is counting my change back to me correctly. I never ask questions.

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