Scarred for life

There is one last lesson I’ve learned throughout this experience, and I could have added it to my last post, but it really warrants its own post. The whole idea of what we are trying to do with These Are My Scars was inspired by the events that took place within my own cancer journey.

During treatment I was so focused on just staying alive and getting through it, I never gave any thought to how I would be affected by the after effects of treatment, including surgery. I have never been squeamish about surgery, I actually wanted to be a surgeon at one point in my life (damn you chemistry), but once it was over, part of me just wanted to bury what had happened.

It’s strange that people will say “you’ve scarred me” or “I’m scarred” but it always has such a negative connotation. I’ll admit to buying into the negativity, after all it’s something that happens to you. No one really chooses to become scarred, so I suppose it can be seen as an invasion. I thought so too!

 After my Lobectomy, I was left with a large red J shaped scar on my back and side, it looked like a zipper if you included the staple marks, and I hated it! It reminded me of all the crap and fear that I was feeling. I hated it because when people saw it they’d ask me to relive the story behind it, I got tired or explaining and lying that I was “fine” when really I was a mess. I decided that to commemorate the end of treatment I would get a tattoo, one that was big enough to cover the entire scar, so that it’s ugliness would become something beautiful.

 As treatment ended, the emotional fallout began and I slowly became a highly functioning basket case. To look at me I was normal, but inside I was an unmitigated mess, barely holding it together, and I was becoming exhausted keeping up the front. The more the Doctors told me I was fine, the worse my anxiety got, until it happened. The other shoe dropped and the news I was afraid of was true, the cancer was back. The knowledge of which was terrifying and liberating at the same time. The next day I went and began my tattoo odyssey. It started at the wrists, then the shoulder, lower back and hip, all the while I was dying to tattoo over my scar. I still hated it! I would hide it, and cover it up, and couldn’t wait till that cover up was permanent, so it would be beautiful!

The strange thing was that as time passed, I continued to tattoo, but I held off on that piece, I’m not sure what I was waiting for. Maybe I was waiting for acceptance, that this thing was part of me and shouldn’t be covered. Maybe If I covered my scar, it would be like denying what happened, the good and bad…but a lot of what I found was goodness, yes cancer sucks, I can’t deny that I wish no one ever had to get that news, but we do, and it sucks! Without it though, I wouldn’t have met some of the most amazing and inspiring people, or have realized that life is so much more than what I was living! As that realization washed over me, I found that I could deal with my reality; the thing was I didn’t even know that I had realized it yet! One day I found myself talking to my tattoo artist about my back piece and how I wanted it to be, describing the image I wanted painted and then I said it, “you have creative license, but don’t cover the scar!” What!? Had I lost my marbles!

It wasn’t until I was having coffee with a dear friend and fellow cancer ass kicker that the catharsis hit me in its entirety. We began talking about tattoos and how they could tell a story, I was explaining how I felt about my scars, when he told me about his scars, and I couldn’t believe it! He was a virtual road map of surgical storytelling. Knowing about his story, where he had been and what he had gone through to survive made his scars beautiful! Mine too.

I never gave myself credit for enduring, because I was always thinking there was someone worse off. I was ashamed that I had come through fairly unscathed compared to others, I felt guilty. I had to deal with that guilt! As my scars faded, I think the guilt did too. I have to admit that I’m a bit sad they have faded, and maybe now I’m afraid that they’ll disappear completely. Its strange loving and hating something at the same time, except I don’t hate them anymore, if anything I’m proud of them and of my story.

We all have a story to tell and scars from our journey, whether they are physical or emotional and we need to deal with what they represent. For me it was the emotional scars that cut me deeper than the physical ones, once I opened up about my guilt, my fears and anxieties, I was able to embrace my physical scars and appreciate them for the beauty and strength they represented.

I’m alive, I survive, I thrive, and These Are My Scars!