I scraped through two breast cancer diagnoses with both breasts more or less intact. I can and do tell myself I am grateful to be alive. However, it is more complicated than that.
I have two large scars under my right armpit. And a weird small dent from the drain inserted after my lymph nodes were removed. On the left I have a wide three inch scar and a hole in the underside of my breast – which I find very useful for storing things: my gym locker key, Kleenex, small rodents. And yet another dent from the lymph node biopsy. One nipple goes East - the other West. Honestly, in comparison to the kind of damage I have seen, not that bad. But it is still my body and one I am adjusting to.
I am not a complete stranger to scars.
I have a few. My sister dropped the rusty handle of the wagon she was pulling me in. Six stitches in my forehead. A four inch scar on the side of my head caused by a barbed wire fence while I was trying to follow my sister and her friends into the local garbage dump. A scar in the back of my head from a bad rock throw…by my sister. I took a header down a flight of stairs, crushed a nerve in my face and received fourteen stitches across my forehead. I was at the wedding of my sister’s youngest daughter. Really, it might be easier to simply avoid my sister. This last one was the toughest. Whenever I met someone new or saw someone I hadn’t seen for a while I felt they saw nothing but the scar.
My peace with the last one, the three inch scar on my face, came only this year during a professional photo shoot. The photographer’s calm demeanor and kind comments about how it added mystery and intrigue gave me pause for thought. He also mischievously suggested I should never tell the truth. Too mundane. Now I tell people I received the scar in a knife fight with a monkey in a Puerto Rican bar. At least that is this week’s story.
My breasts are not on public display. I will probably never be asked to pose for Playboy –although the more salient determining factor may be that I am a senior. No one sees my wounded breasts. But faced with a mirror I cringe. I try to convince myself that it is irrelevant but it is one more after-effect that I live with in the ongoing drama that is Cancerland.
After two visits to the plastic surgeon I decided no more surgery. I have spent a significant amount of time and money working with a physiotherapist to soften the scars. I have less pain, more flexibility but the scars aren’t much prettier. On my bucket list has been to go skinny dipping one more time at my much beloved lake. It’s for me alone and reminds me of my raucous, carefree teenage years of cabin life, rock and roll bands and far too much fun. Of course the lake has dropped in level and you have to run a long way to get in deep enough, as witnessed by a rather misplaced attempt by a young woman last summer.
By the time she hit waist high quite a crowd had gathered and they even had time to mix up a few drinks and pull up chairs. I applaud her tenacity at the same time as I question her judgement of going in before dark. But I envy the carefreeness of it. Will I ever be able to do that again?
I don’t know when or if I will have an “Ah Ha!” moment for my breasts. Yes - they are symbols of what I have lived through, just like my crow’s feet and silver hair – which I embrace. I see women bravely posing for the “Scar Project” the “Isis Project” and maybe what I need is a repeat performance of my experience with the photographer? Shed my self consciousness, my clothes, look directly into the camera and ask “Do you want to hear my story?”