Burned Aging

I remember wanting to look older when I was in college. I used to volunteer as a reading tutor at a public elementary school my senior year. One time when I was at the school, a teacher told me to get to class. She saw me as 6th grader and not a 21-year-old senior in college. The fact I had my hair in pigtails probably didn’t help. I just recall being so upset that I was mistaken for someone so young. Now, I would give anything for that to happen again.

How come no one tells us how drastically cancer ages the body externally? Many of us internally feel older due to permanent side effects and other illnesses that were triggered by our cancer treatments and surgeries. I honestly never thought once about how much my face and neck would age.

Yes, I have always been on the vain side. Growing up in community theatre and ballet meant always looking in the mirror and looking the part. I always used to look years younger than my actual age, even in my early 30’s. This rapid aging is tough to accept because no amount of creams or concealer can fully cover it up.

I first noticed the aging of my neck. It used to be so smooth. Now it looks like lines of multilayered necklaces going down it. Quite shocking to see in the mirror. Why did I age in that area?

I honestly believe it has something to do with the radiation burns that went up the left side of my neck. I could see the beginning of lines then. I’ll never understand why I burned so terribly in so many areas (neck, back, under arm) aside from my left breast. Radiation was just as painful and horrific as chemo. This picture below still makes me cringe. By the end of my 33 treatments, the layered lines had formed completely across and down my neck. Instantly looking 20 years older in that area.

It has taken a full three years for the dark panda circles under my eyes to fade enough to where I no longer need to wear a pound of concealer to attempt covering them up. As you can see below in the pictures from three years ago, nothing could fully cover them up back then. Aside from looking fatigued, I looked…haunted.

It’s only recently that I no longer need a pound of makeup to cover the visibly aging skin. I just need half a pound instead! Seriously though, I continue to struggle with externally looking so different and just so much older. Then add medically induced menopause to the mix, and all hell has broken loose.

I don’t know my skin post-cancer. It’s dry and scaly in some areas now. The skin underneath my eyes has taken the biggest beating due to constant rubbing, new allergies to certain dye and contact dermatitis. I’m constantly trying different creams trying to find the right one to truly hydrate my skin.

Don’t even get me started on my lips! They used to be smooth too. Ever since the chemo days, I continually struggle with peeling and cracked skin on each corner of my mouth. Fortunately, my dermatologist gave me some cream that I use on my lips and under my eyes to help with the dryness. I never know what will cause another skin flareup.

It just boggles my mind that all this aging happened without zero warning. The physical changes are just so jarring. To everyone else, I look super healthy. I treat my face like a canvas. It is amazing what makeup and good lighting can do. I miss my thick eyebrows. It’s still strange to fill them in with a brow pencil. Now I’m a master at it.

Once the makeup comes off, I look a little gray, burned and forever fatigued. My face and neck are constant reminders of the trauma which is why I can’t ever NOT think about my cancer experience. It stares me in the face and plagues me daily.

10 thoughts on “Burned Aging

  1. I want to shout “ME TOO” about every single one of these points. You are so right and I don’t think it’s vain by any stretch of the imagination to point out how much cancer and treatment affects our appearance. We all need to be talking about it! Love and light to you.

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  2. I was 62, but have since turned 64. I would feel ridiculous coloring my hair auburn which I have had all my adult life. It’s now white and a very dark curly gray. I get compliments from strangers every single day from complete strangers and friends. I lost 30 onus’s and look better than I have in years. So, what’s the problem? I felt like I was 40 before my diagnosis, but now I feel ancient, always careful about my steps. My feet don’t always listen to my brain. My memory is horrible, and simple tasks that were so easy are constantly done incorrectly, even after double checking multiple times. It’s an embarrassment. I don’t recognize the me inside or outside. In recent weeks, my attitude and maturity level have slipped from a positive trust in God to a crazy early 20’s no experience to guide me attitude. Haven’t lost my faith though. God is good. As for me, it’s a daily struggle for sanity and acceptance. I don’t think I have ever truly grasped the reality that this happened to me. Surreal for sure.

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    1. Martha – I absolutely relate to what you said. I’ve totally lost my footing too. My faith is strong, but all that used to be so natural feels unnatural. I even walk differently because of the neuropathy in my feet. The only thing that has remained the same is the shapes of my eyes. lol Even my elbows are super dry and never had that issue before. It’s soooo many tiny things that end up being overwhelming. Definitely surreal.

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  3. I felt like I was maybe just imagining things as I feel like the bags under my eyes are so much worse since fighting cancer this year! But your story makes me feel not so crazy!! And my hair & skin so dry! Thank you for sharing! I only had stage 1 idc with no nodes involved so just had lumpectomy , sentinel node biopsy & 20 rounds of radiation (16 plus 4 boost) & then Letrozole which I have just been taking a break from as side effects have been terrible so I always feel like I shouldn’t complain as my journey not so bad compared to others . I do know my body though & your story helps me realize the things I’ve been noticing are real! Thank you!

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    1. Hi Lisa! You’re not imagining it at all. So relieved I’m not alone either. Don’t ever compare your journey to others. Your experience is yours and no one else’s. Remember that. I thought the changes to my skin would fade, but that’s not the case. I literally had to change the color of my foundation because of this gray tone in my face. Soooo many changes out of our control. Gentle hugs!

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  4. Trying to find a Christmas dress one year after chemo and radiation is surreal is like another woman is looking back from the mirror. The size 6-8 is now 12, the waist long hair is now short and grey, and getting any sexy dress is out of the question, I just want to cover all my scared chest and burnt skin, I feel old and tired.

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    1. It’s definitely a real struggle for some of us. Since posting this I’ve discovered there a lot of women AND men who struggle with all the external changes and challenges. I hear ya on the weight gain too. Gentle hugs

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  5. OMG, I love this post! Cancer treatment has accelerated the aging process for me without a doubt. And I was a lot older than you to start with, so when I look in the mirror these days, it’s not good. Seriously though, I’m sorry you have to deal with this on top of everything else. And btw, thinking about how you look is not being vain. It’s human nature. We all know that true beauty is on the inside, but society cares a whole lot about what we look like on the outside too. For me, the worst part (as far as physical change that others see) has been the impact on my hair. It used to be one of my better features. Post chemo it didn’t grow back well at all. Nor did my eyelashes and brows. And there are more than a few other physical (and non-physical) changes, but we don’t have all day, right? Anyway, I definitely relate. Thanks for writing so candidly.

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    1. Oh Nancy, you crack me up! I so hear you about changes to hair and brows. I’ve written soooo much about my hair over the past two years. My lashes came back but still different. I’ve really been able to process so much this year alone. I was literally sitting in the chair at the salon, starring at myself in the mirror and just wrote this piece right then and there. You’re a gem, my dear!

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