A Scar You Can't Hide

When Kareemah lost her leg due to Synovial Sarcoma, she also lost touch of who she was as a person. She identified herself as a disabled individual, not a woman. But after a life-changing experience with First Descents, she was able to not only find her identity again, but re-invent herself. Read more to find out how one experience changed her life forever.

I have been a cancer survivor since May 2010. Whenever I attend an event for cancer survivors, there is a shared kinship, as we both show the mark of distinction below the collarbone. There is a small smile, a look of recognition. Our port scars show like the tattoo of a not-so-secret, secret society.

Always A Fighter

One of my cancer survivor scars can't be covered by a high collar shirt or pricey foundation and concealer. When diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma in the summer of 2009, I was told I would have to have my leg amputated. No matter how a physically disabled cancer survivor tries to forget cancer, they never can, not for a minute. As they reach for their cane, use their wheelchair, or put on their prosthesis when they get up in the morning, they are reminded of the battle they fought and continue to fight -- the battle to live. Trying to get back to life as I knew it was difficult. Once I went into remission, I started to experience stages of grief from the loss of my limb. I questioned why I survived this rare cancer, and I had trouble realizing that I was going to live like this forever. And no one seemed to understand.

My label as a human being changed for me. I went from being a woman to being a disabled individual (as filling out job applications often had me declare). There were new procedures I had to go through to do everyday tasks. My medical doctors, physical therapists, and prosthetists were always in my recent calls list. I felt that despite the title of cancer survivor, I was still fighting.

A Life-Changing Climb

One year after remission, in May 2011, I was walking again and attended a climbing school in Estes Park, Colorado. It was hosted by First Descents, an organization that provides outdoor experiences for young adult cancer survivors and fighters. That one week changed my life spiritually and physically. I found something that finally allowed me to clear my mind, and take me off the endless rounds of blood thinners due to minimal mobility. I wanted to be near climbing any way I could, even though I was born and bred in New York City. I got a part time job working for Eastern Mountain Sports, an east coast chain of outdoor outfitting stores where I got to learn more about my new passion. I wanted to share this new sense of empowerment with my new found disabled community. A two-day climbing clinic idea with a friend turned into twice a week sessions all year round. This spring, I will start my first semester in school to study for a Recreational Therapy degree.

There are certain disabilities that do not get as much recognition, so another key to my progression is being aware of the resources. Too many do not know that they exist, so I encourage those with disabilities to seek solace outside of the usual government agencies and start using the internet search engine. You'll be surprised how many tireless people are working out there to provide services that in turn can get you where you want to be physically, spiritually and even monetarily.

A New Me

After two years of post chemo recovery, physical therapy, support groups, and occasional climbing and hiking, I can say now that I have found myself again. I found the confident woman who I thought was lost forever. Now I would like to think of myself as a sort of advocate for living. If you asked me three years ago, I wouldn't have known what that meant. But I can now say I no longer exist, I live. I live for every moment, experience and opportunity that my body will allow.

Nothing will ever be the way it was, as is true for all cancer survivors. But instead, I have this rebirth -- a golden opportunity as I see it -- where I get to repeat life's obstacles and triumphs over again, but differently. I remember the first time I went grocery shopping for myself again and the first time I ran. Moments like this have become pivotal parts of this new life.

I am a human being first and a disabled person second. I wear my scar with pride, and when I see others like myself, we don't need to say anything. There is just a slight smile, a look of recognition. A scar of the fighters.


(Images courtesy of I Had Cancer and the author)