Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Missing Breasts...and She's Never Loved Her Body More.

When I saw Darryle Pollack's Ted Talk about what she learned from life as a result of having cancer and a double mastectomy, I knew I had to talk to her for my "Books That Inspire" series. 
The title of her talk and book--I Never Signed Up for This: Finding Power in Life's Broken Pieces--reflect her belief that that we can learn a lot from life's unexpected struggles.
Darryle, you say, "Chasing perfection is a prison. It's a mindset that narrows your vision and takes away your freedom to be the artist of your own life." How did you come to learn this? How can people break out of that prison?
I came to learn this lesson from having cancer, which forced me to see the futility of trying to have perfection in any area of life. Not that I’m recommending cancer as a teaching tool.
Experience is a tough teacher, sometimes the only teacher that gets through to us. I sure wish I had figured out an easier way to learn and break out of the prison of perfection. I think a better way to break out of this mindset is switching over from seeking perfection to seeking perspective. One suggestion for how to start is simply to have gratitude.
The title of your book is I Never Signed Up for the This. Why did you choose this title?
This was also the title for my blog, which I started in 2008. I often say I chose the title because of all the times in my life I’ve said those words. I wasn’t entirely joking, and I also felt most people would relate to what I meant--that life turns out to be nothing like we imagine.
The subtitle is "Finding Power in Life's Broken Pieces." This metaphor comes from your art work. Can you explain the connection?
I was never artistic.  I had no talent or interest in art most of my life. That turned out to be another lesson from cancer. 
I couldn’t find anything to help me cope with all the stress and fear. One day, I happened to take my son to paint a plate at one of those little do-it-yourself pottery studios, and I painted with him. It was amazing for me. This activity I’d stumbled into was the first thing I'd done that actually allowed me to forget about cancer for any amount of time. I wasn’t good at it, trust me.  But focusing on the art and the colors, and just being there helped me relax.  So I started going there. Constantly.
Painting on ceramics, inevitably I broke something. I used the broken pieces of tile to make a design around a mirror, and pretty soon I had a new addiction. Mosaics.
I became completely obsessed with making mosaics, and one day I finally figured out why mosaics had such a special connection for me. I was picking up broken pieces and putting them together to make something beautiful, different from what I started with. That was the exact same thing I was doing with my life. 

When I found out I had a brain tumor, I realized I can't heal what I don't love--and that I'd spent way too much time berating my body. I had taken it for granted, and suddenly I was flooded with appreciation for it. You went through something similar. Can you talk a little about your journey with your body? 
Like so many women, I struggled over my weight, and I never felt thin enough. Even when I was thin, I felt fat. When I looked in the mirror, I never saw what was really there—a pretty great body.
And then I got cancer. During chemotherapy, I had no appetite and couldn’t make myself eat.  Every day I got on the scale and the number kept going down. Pretty Ironic. This was what I had wanted all my life. To be too thin. Now even I could see it. Only now I realized, this wasn’t what I wanted. It was scary.
One day I looked in the mirror at that skinny body and I promised myself if I survived, I would never complain again about being too fat and I would love my body no matter what.
All these years later, I have two missing breasts and I’m nowhere near thin and I’ve kept that promise. I’ve never loved or appreciated my body more than I do now. Yet another lesson from cancer. 
What would you tell your younger self?
Be kinder.  Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t make decisions based on what other people say or think. Trust yourself and your instincts. To discover and become your authentic self, no one knows what you need or who you are better than you.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write a memoir?
Do it.  I’m a big believer in the value of our stories.

Author, artist, and activist Darryle Pollack is a twenty-year survivor of stage III breast cancer who uses her experience to inform and inspire others. Darryle's writing has appeared in the Huffington Post. A former TV newscaster and journalist, Darryle is the co-founder of WHOA Network, an online platform for women over fifty.

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