I am covered in scars. They traverse my torso and wordlessly tell the tale of my four and a half year battle with cancer. Each line a memory I'd prefer to forget; each a roadmap directing me to the darkest corners of my mind. They serve as a constant reminder of the many times my body has failed me only to recover. My hair has grown back. The rosy hue has returned to my cheeks. The black that once circled my eyes has disappeared. I have walked through fire, I have crawled over glass, and I have survived.
But I am not healed.
I am covered in scars. They have coiled around my spirit, they cast shadows in my mind. When once I ran toward my dreams and the possibilities life held, I now find myself often paralyzed by fear. Long term plans are not to be made because...what if? Scans every three months remind me I am not out of the woods yet. Each visit can be the one that sends me right back into treatment -- or worse, no treatment at all.
Every so often I will look through the Facebook pages of friends I have lost to this disease. Their comments are still funny. Their pictures still make me smile. Their hope is still alive in cyber world. But they are gone.
I think about their families, their children, and I am grateful to still be here for my own. And I wonder if these thoughts are self-indulgent. I should be doing more than sitting here feeling grateful. I should go back into the world and live my gratitude. For a moment, I laugh because I know I sound exactly how people want me to sound. The world wants a cancer patient to make them feel profoundly grateful for their own health and serve as a role model for the 'can do' attitude.
The bald woman attached to an IV pole, dancing around to some inspirational song
. I know this because I've been that woman. Smiling with a scarf wrapped around my balding head, laughing while trying on wigs. But this mask becomes heavy and begins to wear on you and you find yourself saying, "Fuck this," and getting real with yourself and your feelings. You let the rage that has been bubbling just under the surface come to a full boil and you allow yourself to say the things you dared not say before: "This isn't the road my life was supposed to take. Who gets diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at 35?" Unfortunately, the answer is: many people.
After completing treatment, most patients I know feel an unexpected and unbearable sense of loss. It may not come right away. There is a euphoria that can occur when you are given a clean bill of health. You get caught up in the wave. For some of us, though, that wave crashes, and we are left to pick up the broken pieces of our existence.
We may have survived, but some of us have yet to heal.
What do your scars mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of the author and Brooke Cagle