How cancer gave me better skin (and a better life)

 No one wants to find out they have cancer, especially a mother with one child starting high school and another in elementary school. I had just turned 40 when I got the bad news. I’d found a lump in my right breast. It didn’t show up on my mammogram and my doctor told me to stop worrying. It was just fibrocystic lumps, he said. Go home and relax, he said.

I knew I couldn’t relax with a lump the size of a cat’s-eye marble just behind my right nipple, so I demanded a biopsy. A few days later, my doctor called to deliver the news that I, indeed, had cancer. I met with a surgeon that very day. The verdict: a mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy.

A half-year later, cancer-free and with tufts of hair resembling the fuzzy down of a baby duck, I took a good look at my skin. It wasn’t good. I looked older, drawn and somewhat gray. I was still 40 years old but I looked a good 10 years older. The survivor in me said, “This will not do. I am not dead. I’m alive and want to look like it, damn it.” In that instant, my skin-care journey began.

I can’t say my skin is perfect today, but people tell me it doesn’t look 56. I have a few fine lines, but nothing that gives me pause. How did I go from gray and lifeless to vibrant and alive? Quite simply, I never skip my skincare routine. I don’t care whether I’m tired, sick, cold or sleepy, it will be done. I have it down to a science: cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, eye cream, eyelash serum, lip balm.  Sometimes I use a face mask while I’m writing or watching television. Many nights I wear one to bed. I exfoliate to remove dead skin cells and promote turnover. I wear sunscreen and avoid the sun.I apply firming cream to my neck and décolletage. I take skin-care supplements.

Would I do all of those things if I hadn’t had breast cancer? Maybe. Eventually. I probably would have waited until wrinkles and lines appeared. And really, that’s a bit late. It’s always better to prevent the signs of aging than to deal with them once they’ve taken root. So my advice to women, all women, is this: Start taking care of your skin right now. Today. Baby it. Pamper it. Show it some love. It will love you back.

Speaking of showing love …

I mentioned that having cancer gave me a better life. It’s true. It did. At the back of my mind every day is the knowledge that breast cancer isn’t like other cancers. There’s no magical date upon which you’re considered cured. It can come back one year, five years, 15 years, 20 years later. When it does, it’s often with a vengeance.

Every day for me is a gift. Every person I love, friend or family, is a gift. The number is limited, just like our time on earth. I love each member of that elite circle fiercely and irrevocably. I tell them so, often. And I know, without a doubt, that my love is returned.

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