scars; mastectomy scar; living with scars

Scars

I have a lot of physical scars. There is a 5cm long one above my lip, which is the result of an incident involving a chocolate topping bottle about 20 years ago. No, I wasn’t glassed in a late-night brawl at my local Cold Rock, but rather the victim of  my housemate’s careless placement of a glass bottle on the edge of a high shelf.  The bottle fell, smashed and a piece of glass flew up into my face. The glass was so sharp that I didn’t feel it cut; the first I knew of it was when I noticed my blood pouring all over the floor. It was stitched up by a gorgeous young doctor in the local emergency department, who took great care to make sure that my tantalisingly named vermillion border was stitched back together perfectly so that my scar would eventually become barely noticeable. I was in my early 20s when it happened, so dealing with a facial scar, no matter how minor, was sort of a big deal. One of the first ‘medical’ treatments I adhered to as an adult was the application of Vitamin E oil to that scar. Morning and night, day after day. I really didn’t want a visible scar. If only I’d known what lay ahead.

vermillion borderlip scarlip scar 2

When I pull the cat’s bum face to signify my displeasure with something, or whistle, or smoke a Cuban the scar disappears. I do at least one of those things regularly each day.

Also, I am determined to bring the term ‘oral commissures’ into everyday use. I’d appreciate your help.

I have scars on my left knee from two surgeries – one to fix a cartilage torn at the gym (no shit, that seriously happened, I went to the gym!), and one to fix some serious damage I did falling down the stairs whilst moving house the week after we got married. You’ll be pleased to know that the box of cheap, mismatched glassware I was carrying was unscathed. The surgeon who did the second knee operation was at pains to tell me that he would do his best to reuse the pre-existing scars to minimise further scarring. I’m not sure how he kept a straight face during that conversation considering my knees are so wide and gnarly they resemble a pair of Galapagos turtles retracted into their shells.

My kneecaps in their natural habitat.

My kneecaps in their natural habitat.

I have a tiny little white scar which belies the enormity of what came out of it – the scar from my boy’s caesarean birth, where somehow they managed to pull a 4.4kg baby out of a slot that’s only about 10cms long. I suppose one only need compare it to the slot that a baby born ‘naturally’ comes out to imagine how the laws of physics can be defied. When I saw the size of my newborn’s pumpkinesque head, I was quite pleased that those laws were defied by my stomach rather than my vagina.

Then of course I have the massive great scar where my right breast used to be. I have pondered long and hard about posting a photo of it. I would never in a million years have ever even contemplated posting a topless photo of myself before my mastectomy – mainly because to see the full length of the D cup boobs of a 40 something woman she’d have to be totally naked, not just topless. But I think that the whole process of cancer – mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation tattooing and radiation – has caused me to see the place where my boob used to be as almost otherly; it’s like I’m looking at an image of someone else. In my mind’s eye, my chest is complete with two breasts, so when I catch a glimpse of myself naked in the mirror, I am always shocked to see what it looks like. Almost two years on and it’s still a surprise to see that my breast isn’t there, and my skin is mottled brown from the radiation burns. The entire scar, plus the adjoining underarm where the lymph nodes were removed, are numb, which means that every night, when I faithfully apply Vitamin E so that my scar remains soft, I can’t actually feel my hand touching my own skin. Maybe that numbness is what causes the mental separation, and is perhaps what allows me to show you this:

mastectomy

Things I had hoped to show in this photo – mastectomy scar, radiation tattoos (they look like tiny blue moles), radiation burns on chest and throat, scar from portacath (on left shoulder). Things that are also in this photo: giant bingo wing.

It’s shocking, I know. It still shocks me every single time. I’ve never been particularly slim, taut or terrific, and I am now a middle-aged woman, but the sight of that scar takes my mind to places that it doesn’t want to go. Clothed, with my boob out of its box and in my bra, I look like me. That image in the mirror matches the image of me I hold in my head. Naked, with my boob back in its box, the image in the mirror doesn’t match what’s in my head, and I feel uncomfortable and jittery. I don’t hate my body, I am actually amazed and proud that it stood up to the beating that chemo and radiation handed out.  It’s just that my body doesn’t look like my mind thinks it should. I grew my boobs at age 12, so my brain had 30 years of status quo before everything changed. Maybe one day it will all click and there will be no surprise when my bra comes off at shower time. Either that or I’ll grow old (a thought that seriously excites me – imagine having the chance to grow old!!), dementia will kick in and I’ll forget that I ever had two boobs.

The physical scars heal with time; the scabs fall off, the itching stops and the pain subsides. But the emotional scars are still livid, they weep and itch and pain. The only salve is a mixture of time and love, and I am thankful every single fucking day that I have both. This blog is also something that soothes my wounds, especially the comments from you guys, my readers, whose words show me that I am not alone in this. Sometimes when I’m writing particularly hard stuff, I imagine you sitting at your computer, reading along and nodding or crying or sighing or laughing. That sense of sharing is going to help me heal, and I hope it will help you too, no matter what scars you bear.