What’s the Real Story Behind Your Cancer Scars?

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A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars. Carly Simon

Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as secrets to reveal. A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh. Leonard Cohen

It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars. Garrison Keillor

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. Khalil Gibran

Cancer scars are superficial things. They exist on the surface and easily become symbolic of how cancer has changed us. But being superficial, how can they possibly illustrate the extent to which we have been altered? How can they ever make obvious all that cancer has broken?

I had a mastectomy, TRAM flap reconstruction, nipple reconstruction, areola tattoo and a lift of my healthy breast. I can still see all the scars and I’m two and a half years out from my surgeries. What can’t be seen is the numbness of my right breast and entire abdomen. You also can’t see the constant pain when I wear a waistband or bra.

I used to have a slightly bulging tummy, but the TRAM flap got rid of that. I can’t say I miss it when I wear something tighter, but I never would have traded it for the lingering pain of the TRAM.

When I look in the mirror now and see my scars, I tend to give a slight shrug, as if to say, “It is what it is.” I’ve learned to accept the fact that my tattooed faux areola is slightly lighter than my remaining real areola. I don’t like the fact that my fake nipple has gone underground, barely resembling the body part it was meant to replace. In fact, when I am braless, my one real nipple is the only one you can see, making me look asymmetrical. (I never go out of the house without a bra, so I’m just saying this is how it looks to me.)

I think the word that best describes how my surgeries made me feel is “diminished.” Like aging, my cancer surgeries and resulting scars, pains and problems, made me feel less of what I used to be. It’s not that I don’t respect what my body has gone through, because I do and my scars are eloquent reminders of that. It’s just that the results make me all too aware of how quickly you can go from healthy to damaged.

As time goes on, I feel less diminished by the physical effects of my cancer. I am in better shape than I was before, because I discovered yoga. My 53 year old breasts are perkier and my tummy is flatter. But I know the price I paid and still pay every day. And today, I’m tired of paying it.

What’s the story behind your cancer scars? Do you feel ennobled by them, or do they just annoy you? Do you have good days and bad days when it comes to how you feel about your scars and the other physical effects of your cancer?

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Comments

rachel@ccchronicles's picture

I try not to look at my scars

I try not to look at my scars for too long. They just make me feel tired and sad. If I dwell on them, I just start thinking about what else the cancer could take and that’s not a good place to be. I know some people see them as some kind of badge of honor, but I’m afraid that’s not me. *sigh*

 

Debbie's picture

I’m Ambivalent at Best

Rachel:

I know what you mean. It’s not as bad for me as it was the first six months or so after my surgeries, but I’m still ambivalent about my scars. I try to respect them, because of what they say about all I went through, but I can’t say they are a badge of honor.

I guess ambivalence is the best I can expect. I’ve worked really hard to learn to live with my scars, because I have no other choice. But, there are definitely times, especially when I’m in pain, that I am frusterated by cancer’s ongoing presence in my life. Acceptance isn’t a constant state, that’s for sure.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

Beth L. Gainer's picture

Scars

I’m sorry, Debbie, that you have continuing pain as a result of the tram. Your posting resonates with me. I have scarring, numbness, and pain — and I had a DIEP flap. My griping about the pain and my pity party can be read on a recent posting: http://bethlgainer.blogspot.com/2011/12/going-off-diep-end.html

 

Debbie's picture

I Read Your Post and I’m So Sorry for Your Pain

Beth:

I read your post and I’m so sorry that you are crying from the pain of your DIEP flap reconstruction. That’s just not right.

I don’t think of your post as a pity party – you said what needed to be said. I was especially moved by your question to your plastic surgeon, “Where in our pre-surgery conversation was the term “chronic, life-long pain” ever mentioned? Was it lost among the beautiful before-and-after photos that kept me so optimistic?”

I too wonder where that info went. I was told I’d be numb, possibly for the rest of my life, but I don’t remember any mention of life-long pain. Over a year after my surgery, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I finally called the office for help. The nurse told me there was nothing I could do; surgery would just cause more scar tissue. I remember feeling like I had been punched in the stomach and asked her if I was going to have to suffer with this the rest of my life. She stumbled over her answer, “I guess so.”  Then, as an aside, she told me the doctor suggested that maybe massage would help.

She didn’t sound hopeful, but I was desperate. I made an appointment at my cancer center with the oncolgy and breast surgery massage specialist and was immediately in caring hands. I was so grateful for her help that I wrote a post about her. The massage really helped break up a lot of the scar tissue. Today, the pain is at least bearable because of her.

I don’t know if massage therapy would work for you or if you have even tried it already. I hope you can find some relief from your chronic pain. It’s bad enough to have gone through all you did; being reminded every day by pain is just plain cruel.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

Dianne Duffy's picture

Scars

My scars are just an ugly reminder of all the Hell that I have been through. Two jagged scars make a line from one side of my chest to the other. The smaller scars at the top and bottom of my right breast from a previous lumpectomy seem insignificant at this point.

There’s also the very small two scars on my abdomen from the oopherectomy, and the belly button that is a stranger to me. This is the only scar that has improved the looks of anything. Now I have a cute little dimple of a belly button, but alas, it is not the one I have known all my life. It is a cute little stranger.

Then there’s the scar along my neck. Basically it follows the curve of a crew neck shirt almost an entire quarter of my neck, from the collar bone to the back. This was from the removal of an additional 17 lymph nodes (none cancerous). Even though this is by far the most artful scar of the bunch, it has a nice smooth curve and is thin, it’s still there and visible. So I wear crew necks or turtle necks.

But the biggest thing about the scar (across my chest) is not that it is the scar that saved my life, which is how one should probably view it; it is that is says, and will always say, this is the day your life changed forever. You will never be who you were ever again. There’s no going back to a normal life – ever.

You see with my life saving surgery, a nerve was damaged that keeps me in constant pain, not the pain that most people are familiar with, but a fire in my armpit that is never quenched and just the feel of my shirt turns the heat up to nearly unbearable. You say you never go out without a bra – I don’t ever wear one. I can’t. Not even if I wanted to. Much too painful. And all those cute blouses I used to wear to work – now I can’t wear them either. I buy my clothes in the men’s department now. Men get softer clothes. With wider armholes.

But, it covers the scars.

Thanks for writing. Sorry my comment is such a downer. Cancer is kind of a downer too. So is pain. Bleh.

 

Debbie's picture

The True Horror of Cancer Scars

Dianne:

I’m so sorry for the horrible toll cancer has taken on your body. You have my deepest respect for how you manage both your physical and emotional pain. Please continue to share your comments. I never regret reading a “downer” comment, because I’m always glad that we at least have this safe place to share our feelings about how cancer has affected our lives.

I wish you all the very best and hope you find relief in some way from your suffering.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

Sasha's picture

tattoos

Your post reminds me of many of my clients. I am a tattoo artist specializing in both cosmetic tattooing and decorative tattoos over scars.

It is possible to use tattooing to simulate a 3 dimensional nipple for a more symmetrical appearance. Of course it won’t fool anyone on close inspection, but for everyday, after the shower, purposes, it looks pretty good. This might be an option for you. Below is my website, but you can also check to see if there is someone local to you who does this work.

3D Nipple Tattoo

There are also options of cover the scars with decorative tattoos.

Thank you for sharing your story and strength.

Sasha

 

Debbie's picture

Tattooing is Another Option

Sasha:

Thanks for the information. Did you see the recent Huffington Post article on the woman whose picture was removed from Facebook because it showed her tattooed chest? It’s good to know women have options other than plastic surgery.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

Sasha's picture

Debbie-

Debbie-

I did see it, it seemed a bit silly of Facebook. Very silly and a bad for their image. I wish you lots of luck as you move through this process to survival.

Sasha

 

Debbie's picture

Thanks Sasha!

Thanks Sasha!

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