Monday, June 14, 2010

Race For The Cure and Body Image

The Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure took place in Raleigh, NC this past Saturday, and it was such an inspiring event. It held special meaning for me, as I have a grandmother and an aunt who have both battled breast cancer-- and survived!!! My aunt was actually in town from Oregon for follow up care at Duke, and so we formed a group and all participated together in this event. I have heard that participating in a Komen race is very different than other races, and as a first time participant, I think I saw why. First, there were SOOO many people that participated. If you look at the picture below-- it is a little tough to make out-- but as far as you can see, there are people that fill up the streets.

The other thing that seemed different to me was the heart and spirit in this event. I think that most people participating had been touched in some way by breast cancer. While my grandma and aunt are survivors, not everyone wins their battle with breast cancer. One of my friends that participated on our team lost her mother to breast cancer. Many, many people have lost loved ones to this illness and it is really heartbreaking.

The picture below is actually a shot of a few of the women that were on our team-- "Breast of Friends" : ) and you will notice the hot pink paper on these women's backs. These hot pink sheets of paper served as memorials to write names of people that you were walking in celebration of (survival), or in memory of, for those who have passed away. It was really sobering and emotional to see all of the names of people who have lost their lives to this illness. I think anytime, with any illness or disease, seeing names or faces make an impact because it personalizes the illness. In talking to my aunt over the course of her visit to Raleigh, she shared with me that battling and surviving breast cancer has changed her life and the way that she lives it in so many ways. One thing that she said that stood out to me was that she is thankful every single morning when she wakes up and realizes how blessed she is to be alive, and to have a body that works and is healthy.
This really impacted me and made me consider how her wise words can be applied to those of us who have not battled breast cancer! First, I think that her attitude of thankfulness is one to be emulated. There are a million ways that having an attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness can impact us-- as well as those around us. Whether it means that we worry a little less, we appreciate what we have more, or take our eyes off of what we lack and what we wish we had and focus on what we do have, it is always good to have perspective, and to live in a way that reflects that attitude.

Secondly, I think that this relates to body image and the ways that we think of and care for our bodies. I want to be clear, like I am often, that eating disorders are a mental illness. Part of having an eating disorder (diagnostically) is experiencing a severe disturbance and preoccupation with one's weight, shape, size, body-- so this is in no way meant to minimize the severity and nature of these thoughts. What I will say though, is that for those of us who struggle with body image and have a negative self-image, this may be a good reminder and an encouragement about all that our bodies can do for us, and how blessed we are to have bodies that are able to function how they are supposed to, that allow us to be active, and that allow us to experience life! Yes, it may be upsetting when our jeans fit more snug; yes, it may get you down when you flip through a magazine and see nothing but airbrushed 'beauties'; and yes, it may be frustrating when you don't feel good about yourself! These are all feelings that most women have experienced before, so you are not alone! But I will encourage you with the words of my brave aunt, who said that she wakes up every morning, thankful to be alive and to have a body that works. Rather than focus so much on the way that our bodies look, maybe if we start to appreciate all that our bodies do for us, and the fact that they allow us to experience life, we may begin to embrace our bodies a little more and appreciate them for what they are and what they do for us.

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