No one dared say it out loud. Hell, I didn’t even really know it was happening. In the days after my transplant my family reveled in how pink my cheeks were. They oo’d and aww’d at the rouge returning to my lips. Mildly annoyed by their gushing I told them to stop. I didn’t see much of a difference anyway. I look at the same face in the mirror every day. I see it, it’s just… my face.

Fast forward a few weeks, and what felt like a million mg of prednisone. I had ‘fat face’. I was miserable. I didn’t recognize the face in the mirror any more. I didn’t mind seeing people that I saw on a regular basis but seeing those who would ‘remember me skinny’ terrified me. I felt like I had gained 30 pound overnight and people would have trouble recognizing me. My family surrounded me with loving words. They meant well saying, “Jenna, you were just so gaunt.” After the sixth or seventh person told me I had looked gaunt I assumed it must be true but I didn’t really understand what that meant.

I went to the doctor this week and looked at my weight over the past few months. From May to June I gained nine pounds, June to July I stabilized and July to August I lost four. Hallelujah I’m headed in the right direction. Again, I didn’t feel like I was seeing a change. After all, I see me in the mirror every day so I wanted to find a way to SEE my changes for the good and bad that I’ve felt. To validate my feelings to myself so here is what I found. Progress in pictures.

July 2015 (left). February 2016 (right).

The picture above stopped me in my tracks. I can see side by side the color lacking from my face. I’m gray. I’ve lost the plumpness and rouge in my cheeks. After seeing these pictures next to each other I was finally able to say what my doctors knew, what no one dared say  out loud. Hell, I didn’t even really know it was happening…I was dying.

Fat face. May 2015

This was my birthday. I cried getting dressed, nothing fit. I remember trying to put my arms in front of me in that blazer and masking my pain with humor, “fat girl in a little coat” I sang. I was happy to be a live but I still didn’t recognize myself. I had gained 30 lbs in three months and I didn’t feel like me. Everyone shared kind words, “You look great!” “I know how you feel but you look HEALTHY now!” I just wanted to shout, “BUT I FEEL HORRIBLE! I CAN’T LOOK AT MYSELF! But then I would be ungrateful for the gift I received. In my own time and my own ways I made peace. Bit by bit. I realized I would be happy with myself again, it would just take time.

February 2016 (heart) August 2016.

When I was admitted to the hospital I weighed about 112lbs. By June 1 I was up to 145. The only time I had been heavier was during pregnancy. I knew that I could not hit that mark. I could not outweigh myself at pregnancy. I had to do something. My face is still rounder than I would like. Maybe this is what it is supposed to be like and eight years of being in heart failure has caused me to become used to seeing a stranger in the mirror. Maybe this is the real me and just need to get to know her. Either way, I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror and feel pretty. I feel like I can put make up on again. When people say I look good, I believe them… most of the time. My weight is going down and I supposed I can tell a slight difference in my weight between the May picture and the August picture. There is one huge difference between those two pictures. My smile. In August, six months later, I’m starting to feel like me.

If you’re looking for a bit of advice, when dealing with someone who isn’t confident in their appearance, I have some that you are welcome to take or leave. In my case, when I was sharing with someone that I was unhappy with the way I looked, I wasn’t fishing for compliments. I didn’t want to be told that  I was pretty or healthy or how gaunt I used to look. I’m telling you, not because of what I see, but because of it that makes me feel. I’ve never had cancer and I wouldn’t presume to know but, I can imagine that if I lost my hair, I don’t think I’d want to be told that I’m still pretty. If I don’t feel that way, I probably won’t believe you. When I gained 30lbs I didn’t want to hear that I looked healthy. If I had to battle another drastic physical change, be it burns, prosthetics, or something entirely different.  I already know how I feel about me, I’m pretty sure I can guess what you’re going to say (meaning well of course). What I really want to know, is if you’ll go grab a glass of wine with me and help me forget?

Courage, dear heart. C.S. Lewis

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