How breast cancer helped me finally accept my body

Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.

By Bisa Myles 

After I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I researched what made my type different. According to research from the Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center, TNBC is most prevalent in African American and Hispanic women and in women who are overweight.  

Reading this made me feel guilty and a failure for not keeping the weight off. 

I was nine years old when I started my first diet.  

My adult uncle called me Miss Piggy for having the extra piece of sweet potato pie instead, and this just made me eat more to numb the pain.  

Eventually, I would start trying to starve myself once I learned that not eating could help me lose weight. I would spend summer breaks working out with Richard Simmons. Summers were also when I knew I would lose weight because I could ride my bike and jump rope as much as I wanted. This was my yearly routine until I was in high school, when I started drinking  Slim Fast and eating salads until the weight came off.  

At 18, I started working out at the health club. I liked to exercise, not just because it could make my body smaller, but because I liked the feeling of my heart beating and sweating. But I would quit going to the gym every time I reached my weight loss goal, and then the pounds piled back on.  

When I reached my thirties and my highest weight of 236, I joined Weight Watchers. I worked hard, waking up in the morning to exercise before work. This time felt different because I wasn’t just starving myself. I thought this was something I could maintain. After several months of working out and counting points, I weighed in at 176 pounds, I felt great. My body was toned because I lifted more weights. I wanted to share my accomplishments with the world.  

I didn’t have a six-pack, but I loved my body until I posted my picture on a Weight Watchers message board, and someone congratulated me with, “That’s a good start. Keep it up.” The one reply devastated me. I was already eating at the lowest points on the WW scale. I was working out for an hour five days a week. What more could I do? 

As usual, the weight came back, and I was back at my highest weight after two years. I did attempt WW again but watching women weighing 150 pounds cry at their highest weight, I realized that there is no magic number. So, I was done chasing after a goal weight.  

But when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned that the size of my body could have caused to disease, I began to question all of my life choices.  

However, after I finished treatment, I realized that my fat body did not fail me. It was strong enough to fight the disease, and it even got me 15,000 feet up Mount Kilimanjaro. A year after being cancer-free, I put on hiking boots for the first time. I’ve tried boxing and indoor rock climbing, and I work out several times each week. Six years after diagnosis, my body continues to carry me as I train to cross Greenland on skis—something that I would not have attempted to do before cancer. Instead of Weight Watchers meetings, I meet up with women in bodies of all shapes and sizes. 

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I found the acceptance of my body that took me years to find. 

Bisa Myles lives in Northwest Indiana and loves to travel and write. She is a blogger at www.mylestotravel.com.  

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