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    Brain Freeze: Reflections on the Girl I see in the mirror

    Debora Krut (she/her) on grappling with her reflection after her recovery and the power of the girl she sees in the mirror.

    I look at the girl in the mirror and I wonder if she is me. It is hard to connect with my body now. I wonder if I see it differently now that they had a good fumble inside my brain.

    Why is my hair so frizzy? Do my hips really dip like that? Was I always this short? Maybe they cut some connection in there that distorts how I view myself because I swear, I wasn’t always this short. My eyes go to my forehead, where the little horseshoe-shaped scar hides under my curls. I got it from two drains that I had in my skull. “No one can see it,” says my mum. “It’s just you that notices.” Maybe she’s right. She’s probably right. But I know it’s there; that’s what matters. I know that it’s there because now that winter is creeping up on us, it stings on cold days. And it sometimes makes an appearance if I rush to do my hair up and I pull it too tight. I feel weird about having to pilot my body, because my mind is full of these endless possibilities – my thoughts are so expansive, so creative. I could do so much with my mind. But it’s trapped inside a body which hurts, which doesn’t work properly, which has let me down so badly in the past.

    I close my eyes and imagine what the doctors saw in those 14-hour neurosurgeries while they were chipping away at the lump of cancer cells via an endoscope. I bet their minds wandered at points and they thought about what will be on TV that night. It’s only natural, I suppose – if you do brain surgeries for a living it must become a mechanical process at some point. It almost makes me jealous that I was just another brain to them. In the normal, healthy world I’m special and stand out like a sore thumb when people find out. But to this bunch of neurosurgeons, I was simply another case.

    I can’t believe I have imposter syndrome about having had cancer.

    After stepping away from the mirror and finishing my routine of morning self-scrutiny, I get my phone out. A Snapchat memory pops up. Two years ago. It’s from my matriculation, which was a week or two before I got diagnosed. She is definitely not me – she is so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Then I think about her, and she really wasn’t. She was in pain every day, with a tumour smushing her brain down, making her see double and plunging her emotions to unbelievable lows. I hate Snapchat memories because it shows pre-diagnosis Debora, and it’s like watching the second season of Game of Thrones and knowing that the Red Wedding is coming. So happy that it’s going well for them but my god Robb Stark, the signs are so obvious when you look back! Retrospect is such a bitch. I want to scream at the Debora in the photo. To shake her. “Make that Specsavers appointment now! The pressure in your brain is at a dangerous point!”

    I lock my phone. That’s enough of that.

    I pass the mirror again on my way out of my room. I see legs that worked so hard to get out of the hospital bed and walk after surgery. A neck that’s been torn to shreds with scalpels and still works hard to hold my head up as I write. Arms that used to be covered in bruises from all the blood draws and cannulas. And my mouth, which still tells my stories despite having had to swallow mountains of pills to keep me going. The girl in the mirror isn’t so bad after all.

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