Me & My Belly

Victoria Pendragon
4 min readFeb 20


Me, home, just after a photopheresis treatment, hideous sunglass required!

I was, in my youth, and through my 30’s and early 40’s I had presented myself as what most men would term “a hot chick.” I dressed the part, and my hips covered a lot of side-to-side territory when I walked. I looked young for my age, just as my mother always had. I thrived on the attention.

Then, in my early 40’s something interesting and unwanted began to percolate in the chemistry of my body and it began to physically manifest all the outward markers of a fatal, incurable disease known to healthcare professionals as diffuse progressive systemic sclerosis, AKA: scleroderma. My skin tightened so much that I was kind of bent all over.

I had thought I’d gotten a lot of attention as a hot chick, but the rapid advance of scleroderma got me waaaaay more. I was — literally — frightening children. I looked more like a skin-covered skeleton than anything else, but I finally found ways to not scare them — and to keep them from being admonished by their parents for staring — (but everybody did… I mean, how could they not?). I cut the fingers off of some white dress gloves and painted the remaining front and back in bright colors so, with my crazy crippled hands hanging at about the eye level of a young child, kids could stare all they wanted and have an excuse for doing so. That ended up with the unexpected consequence of having a lot of interesting conversations about the disease with the parents of said children. It was a win/win situation.

Crippling aside, I was in a massive amount of pain. My entire body was turning into scar tissue. I hurt. One day, my closest friend in the world told me that she had made an appointment for me with the therapist whom she saw for massage. Despite my reticence to have anyone touch me —since everything hurt — because of my trust in her, I went.

On my very first visit to the therapist– (and many more followed) — she told me how I could relieve the pain I was in. I had, thus far, refused pharmaceuticals, wary of addiction, and over-the-counter remedies did nothing at all. But it wasn’t a drug she had in mind: it was a very particular way of breathing.

There and then she taught me how to “breathe into my belly”.

Like most folks, I’d been breathing into my lungs and, of course, when you breathe, that’s where the air goes… but if you relax your belly — you can draw even more air in, and when that happens, the belly expands to give the lungs more room. If belly breathing becomes the way you breathe all the time, your belly enlarges to support the effort.

“You’ve seen images of The Buddha?” Ellen proffered, seeing the look on my face… the face of a former “hot chick.”

“Sure,” I responded hesitantly, inquiry heavy in my tone.

“Well the reason he looks so happy all the time is because he breathes into his belly. You’ll get a big belly if you do it, but you won’t have pain.”

That’s all it took. I was in.

Big belly versus massive amount of pain? That was pretty much a no-brainer for me. Thus, it began…a totally unexpected healing journey. Other rather miraculous things happened as well, like becoming a guinea pig for a clinical trial; and healing from the disease that was supposed to kill me. By then — because the scleroderma journey lasted a few years — belly breathing had become how I breathed and I decided to keep breathing that way. It had done exactly what Ellen had promised: it took away the worst of the pain. I had the beginnings of a round belly; I determined that I’d keep it.

Today, over 30 years later, entirely free of the disease, I have a nice, round, unmistakable Buddha belly. If all goes well, I will be breathing into my belly until I die. It reduces stress and, if you become unwell — which I rarely do — it supports healing. I know it’s one of the reasons that I healed as quickly as I did from Covid 19.

My hands are the only indication that I ever had scleroderma. My fingers are still tightly as tightly curled as they ever were — just a tad more moveable — and my fingertips rest close to my palms permanently. It does tend to make me a little nostalgic if I happen to recall how much a part of my dancing my fingers used to be; I used them as the Balinese dancers do… the muscle memory is still there, though, so I ‘feel’ the movement, but my fingers remain in their claw-like poses. Nevertheless, every Saturday night that we can, I with my crippled hands and my Buddha belly, dance with my remarkably well-built (third) husband as if we were in our twenties, celebrating life, because, damn, life is too good and too short to waste time fussing about things you can’t change.



Victoria Pendragon

Artist; Author of self-help books on healing with Ozark Mt. Publishers; survivor of two 'fatal, incurable' diseases and a healthy dose of CSA