I did Weight Watchers for six years before my toddler son Jonah was diagnosed with cancer. I lost 30 pounds, I wasn’t fat, but I didn’t look like Blake Lively so I didn’t believe it. On Weight Watchers, I lived off points, and would have to emotionally recover from being a pound heavier – one pound- at a weigh in. Thirty pounds lighter, I thought I was the best version of myself.
But, I’ve been turned inside out and twisted around for two years during Jonah’s treatment. I’ve figured this out: I am not my best-self just because I am thin and beautiful (and probably neither are you.) Volunteering for a student-led, peer education organization called REbeL while Jonah got treatment helped me get there.
REbeL is a student group in 34 schools across five states dedicated to changing the definition of beauty and health for everybody. It was founded by fierce female psychologist, Dr. Laura Eickman, who wants people to embrace themselves and quit body dissatisfaction.
How I Got to REbeL from My Son’s Cancer
My dissent into the world of pediatric cancer coincided with the rise of coaches, the ones who want you to have a beach body. The importance of their cause lost on me in my new world. After updating our friends and family on Jonah’s progress, a post would appear after mine from a new coach starting on their journey to be the thin person they were always meant to be; and that they love helping people. They would often post fitspo (fit inspiration) like “never miss a Monday,” or celebrate how they ate avocado. I would hide each new coach.
I also tried a spin class at a local trendy gym to work off cancer-fear. The instructor began the class saying “there’s no excuse for not being here” while she hopped on her bike under a neon light that read “do more than exist.” I thought about myself existing – all I could do some days- and I thought about Jonah’s doctors. The majority of them are women. They saved his life over and over again – this amazing thing- without having six pack abs. They commanded the room during life or death moments in shirts I had a seen them wear a thousand times. I have never once cared that Jonah’s oncologist does or does not have toned arms. I realized what a shame it would be if they felt inferior based on beauty ideals like I do. What a shame it would be if they were wasting their talent trying to have a beach body instead. They are beyond beautiful, they are healing. I also thought about myself with a new urgency: I was not put on this earth to be pretty. REbeL came into my life a couple months after this, my last ride.
I went to a REbeL meeting at Shawnee Mission Northwest to help with marketing research. The 17-year-old female group-leader had everyone – boys and girls- going up to a mirror to say one good thing about themselves. REbeL is something I needed in school, REbeL is something I needed six years ago. I remember crying by myself in the bathroom in sixth grade because I had pimples. I remember letting my weight dictate my happiness. I never thought to re-frame that with something positive about myself.
When I talked with the REbeL chapter leaders they said things like: “You can admire someone else’s beauty without questioning your own,” and “I can’t control others, but I can try to be a positive person for them.”
These 16 year-olds have reached a level of maturity I didn’t have until Jonah’s cancer.
I’m not cured of my self-esteem ailments yet; they are deeply engrained in my psyche. But, these days I work out to feel good, not look good (walking, some running). I practice normal eating, which means I aim to listen to my body cues when deciding what to eat and when to stop. I work on good self-talk. And, I’m focused on my God-given talent, writing. That is when I’m not taking Jonah back and forth from chemo and healing from what we see and do there.
REbeL is hosting its annual Be You Bash on Sept 16 at Studio Dan Meiners, emceed by Steve Serrano and Dave O Mix 93.3. The bash is a fun evening of live music, food, and drinks celebrating YOU being you. You can be entered into a drawing for two tickets to this event by simply posting something you love about yourself on the adjoining Facebook post.
Lastly, here’s is some true fitspo for you: Who you are is so much more than how you look.
Annie lives in Prairie Village with her husband Aaron and four-year-old son Jonah. That’s the most normal thing about her. Jonah was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma in November 2011. Annie left a job she loved as a digital marketing strategist at VML to be with Jonah full time. About her situation, she says “the cancer has chipped away at and uncovered me like I was a buried fossil.” But they did it. Jonah is in remission, and finishing his treatment. You can find her on Instagram or Facebook.