Many events in our lives can leave us scarred. Some events leave indelible, physical scars like a scar on your leg from the time you fell off your bike as a kid. You might have an emotional scar from harsh words said to you by a friend or loved one. A psychological scar can leave its mark after a traumatic event that you experienced or witnessed at some point in your lifetime. Cancer can leave a person with any one of or all three types of scars.
Cancer has left me with emotional and psychological scars. I’ve lost family members, a childhood pet, a favorite professor, and patients who I considered to be like family members to this dirty disease. Seeing the physical pain, determination to live, acceptance of a devastating diagnosis and genuine gratitude for life that cancer patients have has had a huge impact on how I live my life. These experiences have taught me to truly appreciate the little things in life, try not to stress too deeply about the challenges that I have no control over, and to laugh at myself, among other things.
Now cancer has given me some new scars to deal with. I was recently diagnosed with definitely two, possibly three, lesions on my face that are basal cell carcinoma. As I sat in the dermatologist’s office waiting to be seen I knew deep down that I had cancer. I actually avoided having these lesions addressed purely from fear. I have been too scarred by cancer and I know the dirty work that it does. The doctor pretty much diagnosed me in the office and I had two biopsies taken. It hurt. It hurt emotionally, psychologically and physically. Cancer scarred me deep that day.
I walked around with two band-aids on my face to cover the biopsied spots. I have to say it is shocking to me how a stranger can feel comfortable walking up to you and asking “What happened to your face?”. I try to see the best in people and I’m sure it is out of general concern, but really? And there are others who seem to already know that there is something bad under those band-aids and they give you those sad puppy dog eyes. I want to say to them, “Please don’t feel bad for me. I’m going to be fine. Other people need your sympathy more” but I don’t.
I have had two MOHS procedures to completely remove the two lesions that are cancerous. The procedures themselves were painless. Thank you lidocaine, I love you. Everyone I’ve interacted with during these procedures has been nothing short of lovely and kind and patient and I truly appreciate that. The nurse in me knows that my first incision is healing up nicely. But the human in me is still in some shock each time I look in the mirror at my new scar flaunting itself on my forehead.
I just had the second lesion removed and for the second time I am walking around with about 40 sutures on my face, this time from my hairline into my eyebrow, covered by a bandage. Again, lots of questions and concern from those around me. Do I make up a cool story to tell people? I use humor as a coping mechanism and had help from those around me thinking of a couple funny stories. Instead, I stutter through the truth and try not to cry. It is really hard at 32 years old and almost 8 months pregnant to say that you have cancer.
Despite knowing and trusting in modern medicine that I am going to be cancer free, cancer got me good this time. The scars on my face will fade over time and I can always get creative with hair cuts, but the emotional and psychological scars are here to stay. Those I’m going to have to work through. Those are the scars I’m most worried about.
So what do I do about these scars? I’m going to be grateful for modern medicine, the fact that I have health insurance, can afford to have these treatments, and that I’ve had many advocates help me get to this point. I’m going to take better care of myself and wear sunscreen every single day for the rest of my life. I will follow-up with my providers as they instruct me. I’m going to remind myself that I am one of the lucky ones. I am going to try my hardest to stay positive and get out in the world despite the looks I may receive. I’m going to cry and feel sorry for myself once in a while because I know that doing so will ultimately help me stay positive. I think the rest I will have to figure out as I go.