Every Scar Tells a Story
Living in a society that worships outward beauty and perceived perfection can be difficult for those of us who bear visible scars. We are not perfect. We are flawed – but – we are alive, we have survived, and we have a story to tell. Each scar tells a story. Within that story is often a lesson. Within that lesson is often a journey. They are all connected. They are all fragments of you. So what has been my story through each and every scar?
My first story begins at the cusp of adulthood. I was diagnosed with an operable dermoid tumour located in my ovary. To determine whether the ovary would have to be removed along with the tumour, the surgeon performed laparoscopic surgery. This procedure allowed him to view the tumour and how it had grown; and from this determination he was able to operate so that he may save my ovary, removing only a small section of it along with the tumour. The surgery left me with a 10cm scar across my lower abdomen. Recovery took months. I was forced to limit my activities because I could not engage my core muscles. And as I recovered it became clear that my life was permanently altered. For this, I was angry, and I was resentful. I was angry because I had known something was not right within my body for 8 years prior to the discovery [and removal] of the tumour, yet my concerns had been blatantly dismissed by doctors. I was resentful because, at the cusp of adulthood where I had career plans in motion, where I was at the start of something new and exciting, and where I was going to pursue my dreams in NYC, I was forced to change course. I could not return to New York to resume the life I was building. I had no money, and I lost my apartment because I was gone for too long. I had to move elsewhere. I landed in Toronto where I knew no one, no one knew me, I had no connections, and I had no knowledge of the performing arts industry within this city. However, I persevered, I struggled, and I tried. All the while feeling bitter that this had happened at all.
My second story climaxed at the end of maternity leave, but truthfully it all began in 2001. During a routine check up my doctor discovered a lump in my thyroid, which then led me on a 13 year journey of annual blood work, ultrasounds, and biopsies. Although my thyroid was functioning normally, and the biopsy results always came back benign, my Endocrinologist suggested surgery. But, I was hesitant. The surgery posed real risks – it could irreversibly damage my vocal chords and even cause facial nerve damage; my thyroid could stop working and I would have to take medication for the remainder of my life; and my dormant disease [Hashimoto Thyroiditis] could rear its ugly head. However, the cyst had grown to a size that would prove challenging to accurately biopsy, therefore my Endocrinologist advised me to proceed with surgery and, being a new mom, I eventually agreed with her. I was now a parent raising a beautiful little son. I had to be responsible. I had to make sure I was healthy. I had the partial thyroidectomy. The procedure was successful. As suspected, the cyst was benign – however – they found invasive papillary micro carcinoma within the thyroid lobe. Cancer. Shell-shocked I called my husband and then I called my parents. How could I have cancer? Why wasn’t this cancer detected in the blood work, ultra sounds, and biopsies? Is there cancer growing in my left thyroid lobe? Should I have surgery to remove the remaining gland? What do I do? Both my Surgeon and my Endocrinologist advised against my having a second surgery – their concern was that I would be electing to remove a healthy, functioning organ. I was, in lieu of repeat surgery, submitted to routine testing – monitoring the stability of my remaining gland. But, my mind was not at ease. I had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I was shocked, scared, and confused. Every time I looked at the 6cm scar slicing across my neck I was reminded of my diagnosis; and what I learned post-surgery is that not all thyroid cancers are detected from ultra sounds, biopsies, and blood work. Sometimes you actually have to remove the gland to discover it, which is what happened to me. So, what should I do? It was an unanswered question within my heart that dominated my everyday thoughts.
My third story occurred only 9 months after the climax of my second story. It is the story that inspired my blog. I was 40 years old and, being responsible with my health, I insisted on having a routine mammogram performed. My routine mammogram turned into anything but routine. As I was still reeling from, and dealing with the diagnosis of thyroid cancer, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It felt as though the earth fell out from under my feet; and in a total of 22 days from diagnosis to surgery I was home and recovering. I was in shock – survival mode. I had a unilateral mastectomy. I was heavily bandaged, with drains coming out of my chest wall. To ensure that my recovery remained uncomplicated I was forced to alter my everyday movements. I was not allowed to lift or hold my child – even hugging my child was a cautious and delicate affair – and this was heartbreaking for me. I had not only lost my breast but also my ability to parent [as I always had]. I was incredibly sad; and I felt vulnerable and afraid as we waited to learn how extensive the cancer was. Did it invade the lymph nodes? What would my treatment plan look like? Was I going to die? Slowly it all came together, the prognosis, the treatment plan, and the journey to recovery. And in the midst of it all I was greatly moved by the power of the human spirit. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the graciousness, selflessness, and kindness bestowed upon me and my family in our greatest time of need. It lifted me up. It gave me strength. It filled me with hope. I am so thankful.
These are my stories – my scars. And they are unique to me. My experience with Story #1 taught me to honour and listen to what my body is telling me; and I have since learned to be assertive with any concerns for my health. This assertiveness saved my life [in Story #3] when I refused to leave the doctor’s office without a requisition for a mammogram – I did what it took to get one. And because of my insistence, my breast cancer was found. As for the journey that Story #2 has taken me on? There has been no true resolution – no easy answer to this challenge. It is a journey that continues. But that is what life is. It is continuous. My scars tell the story of how I inevitably met my husband; was able to have my son; and experienced remarkable goodness in this world. I used to look at my scars and feel a sense of shame and resentment. But now? Now I am grateful. You see, these journeys may have led me off course, down a path unplanned, but over time I have come to realize my blessings. I realize that perhaps – just perhaps – my life is perfectly on course. And? I survived.
What story does your scar tell? What journey are you travelling? Whatever it may be, remember it is unique to you. It is yours. And it will reveal itself in time.
Every Scar Tells a Story. Published by Crystal Joy Hall