Perfect imperfections

by Hilla Duka


As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with myself and my body than now. Now, when it’s being pumped full of toxins, when my head is bald and my skin is freckled to the max, three of my nails have darkened and are threatening to come off completely, and my eyebrows and eyelashes are gone. Now is when I love it the most.


I’ve always had a weird relationship to my body. Though sadly, this relationship should perhaps be described as normal. Most of my friends have the same one with their bodies. I’ve hated that I’m so short, wishing desperately for just ten more centimetres, preferably straight to my legs. Or just as desperately wishing for ten less kilos, or better yet twenty. I developed anorexia and bulimia pretty much as soon as I hit my teens, and even though I came out of it by the end of my teens, the mindset remained. I adored skinny girls, and I hated my curves. I would curse my body for being built so sturdy, for the muscles and fat that would never go away. Now, I’m so very grateful for them. Had I been one of those super skinny girls, there’s no way I would have been able to take ten rounds of chemo.


I’ll not pretend like I enjoy seeing my own scalp when I look in the mirror, or the strange, lashless eyes that look back at me, but I love my body for working so hard to get through this. And I feel connected to it in a way that’s very new to me. Before, my body was the means to achieve a goal. It was my transportation, not part of the real me. Now, I feel like I’ve taken possession of it in a brand new way.


My dad told me of how, when my grandmother learned she had cancer she had raged ‘How could my body betray me like this?’ but I look at it very differently. I feel as though it was the disconnection between my self, my personality or soul or what have you, and my body, that allowed the cancer to creep in. And, if I’m lucky, connecting the two together again will be what will let it heal.


I caused this, at least in some sense. Or at the very least, my negligence to my own health and my body meant that I didn’t see the small signs something was terribly wrong. A lack of respect for my body meant I didn’t take it seriously enough. I didn’t check my breasts very regularly. I didn’t know all the things to look for when you do. And, when I noticed there was a difference between my two breasts, I didn’t think it was the breast with the tumour that was the problem - that one was looking perky and nice. No, was I looking at the healthy one, wondering why that one had decided to go dog-eared on me. I didn’t think of myself as a vain person, but if I had looked at my body without vanity, maybe some concern for these changes would have prompted me to look into all this sooner? We’ll never know.


Recently, I changed my profile picture on Facebook. It’s a small bloody thing, but it was big to me. I removed the picture of me laughing on our office terrace, my long hair taking up half the picture, and instead uploaded one of myself with no hair. The one that’s over this post in fact. I used my long hair to hide behind. I wanted to hide my apple cheeks and my double chins and my sadly sloping eyes. Being bald lets you hide nothing. But being loved makes you bold, and for me, it has allowed me to show myself and see myself as I really am, these days. Bald head and all.


Going through chemo is really, really rough on the body. I’m now on my fourth treatment, and physically, it’s extremely taxing. If you’re not well-read on the effects of chemo, the basic idea is that since we have no way of actually targeting cancer cells, we just pump the whole body full of toxins, that strike at every single part of your body, hoping that it will also hit the cancer cells. Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. It especially hits the fast-growing cells, like hair, skin, blood, mouth and stomach, but long term use (I will be on chemo for about eight months) will affect the heart, kidneys, lung, and nervous system. To some extent it already is, and I can feel that. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the things I was mourning when I found out I had cancer was the fact that I wouldn’t get to be a little old lady, and now that’s exactly what I feel like - an old lady with bad joints, a heart that races at times, knees and hands that won’t function the way they used to… But throughout all of this, I’m so proud of my body, I’m so thankful for how hard it’s working, to cope with the chemo and to fight the cancer in my body.


Cancer is not a gift, and no one should make the mistake of thinking I’m happy for what I’m going through, but it has changed me for the better in many ways, and how well I am now connected to my body, how proud I am of it, how much I love my life, even when so much has been taken from it - these are just a few of the positive changes I’ve had in my life in the past three months.



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