Embracing Your Scars
Whether physical or mental, everybody has scars. This happens to be about my physical ones.
When I was diagnosed in January 2016, I knew I had to have an operation to remove the tumour, but because it all happened so quickly and unexpectedly, I didn't really know what kinds of questions to ask, so had pretty much no idea what the surgery was going to entail. All I was glad about was that I was going to be asleep. I knew I would be left with a scar, that was made abundantly clear, but the extent of the scar was not communicated to me.
My tumour was about 4cm big, perhaps around the size of a golf ball. Although we knew the surgeons had to remove muscle and tissue around the tumour as well as the mass itself, we didn't quite expect the scar to be as big as it was. That being probably about 3 times the size of the primary tumour.
I won't post a picture on here of when my first scar was initially revealed to me, as it is a bit gory. My family and I like to describe it as a 'Cornish pasty', or more accurately like something from a horror movie. Picture a raised scar, swollen, bruised, and splodged with a hefty amount of dried blood. I'm okay with blood on other people, but when it comes to my own body I do become quite squeamish, particularly around needles and terrifying hospitally things like that. But when it came to facing up to my scar, I was quite ready, my mother was there with the camera, and after I was all bandaged up again I prepared to look at the photo myself.
You know that numb, heart-missing-a-beat feeling you get when you get winded, or are scared half to death, or have just been told some horrific news. That was what it was like when I saw my scar for the first time. It was a worse feeling than when I was told I had cancer. At least when I just had cancer I couldn't feel anything, my body was my body, but now that the cancer was out, my body was different. My shoulder was never going to look the same again, it was never going to be normal. This scar curved right round my shoulder, hardly any tops were going to cover it. I tortured myself with pictures of me in pretty dresses with my 'normal' shoulder (see image to right of me a month before my surgery), thought of all the clothes I couldn't wear anymore. About how nobody would ever find me pretty anymore because I had this hideous thing on my shoulder. It didn't matter that nobody EVER looks at someone's shoulders or back and bases their attractiveness on that - this was inherently UNattractive, and I was never going to look the same again. I had very supportive friends and family, one very close friend immediately ordered me some scar makeup, and offered to go shopping for new clothes with me. But in that moment at least I was pretty inconsolable. Seeing a physical representation of my disease on my body was horrifying.
I'll be honest, it didn't take me that long to get used to the idea in the end. It helped that the scar was healing incredibly quickly, and it probably helped that I couldn't really see it all the time without trying very hard, it being on my back and all. I also had other things to focus on, like scans, hospital appointments, and simply returning to health and going back to University. Getting back to using my arm as before was enough of a distraction. I was scared of removing the bandage for a long time, scared my scar would catch on something, or somehow rip open, get infected, basically that something terrible would happen.
Eventually, back at university, I was ready to take the bandage off, and bore my scar for all my flatmates to see, and you know what? It was fine. I warned people that it was horrific, and not to be turned off by it, but it actually was fine. Nobody was sick at the sight at me, and they hardly even noticed it. People liked me for me, and my scar didn't matter. When I realised that it became a lot easier.
However, the struggle is showing it to new people for the first time, or just NOT covering it up in front of new people. The next hurdle was the fear of people staring, asking questions, or even worse not asking questions - I would just obsess over what they were thinking, if they were speculating over what the scar could be from, or thinking it was ugly. I wore thin strapped dresses out, and nobody ever said anything. I wore short sleeves to lectures and nobody ever asked. I would occasionally catch people looking at it, but then nothing. To this day I have only ever been asked twice: "What happened to your shoulder?", and the first time was a long long time after my surgery.
After my second surgery, my reaction was completely different. A lot more rational, and contained, because I had experience. That's not to say it wasn't a shock, though. The scar was completely different to what I had anticipated, and in a different place. I was told it was going to be in the same place as my old scar - they were going to cut through it. Alas, I have two separate scars, like railway tracks, one on top of the other, outlining the curvature of my now very wavy and denty shoulder; not only do I have scars, guys, but I also have dents where they have removed tissue, muscle and some bone (part of my scapula). Quite cool, huh? My shoulder doesn't really feel like a shoulder anymore, but what matters is that I can use it, and it still functions (mostly) like any other shoulder - yay!
I now definitely do embrace my scars. I'm proud of them. It was on a night out this summer in London when I first wore them out fully, in a string-sleeved playsuit. My boyfriend said he was proud of me, which meant a lot, and my friends were very supportive. Although I sometimes think it's quite easy just to wear them with pride, show them off, dress how I want to dress regardless, I'd be lying if I said it never involved some kind of mental battle. I definitely think they are really cool, and I quite like how they look, but that's not to say that I don't ever wish that they weren't there, or that I could just look normal again or how I used to look. They are a physical representation of my sarcoma, and have done so much good - I've used them to raise awareness of sarcoma. Without these images I would never have drawn attention to myself, and thus not achieved as much as I have in terms of spreading awareness to this rare cancer. They are also what make me unique. A few people have said to me "I wish I had a scar", and that always seemed strange to me - I would never wish this on anybody, scars represent rough times, a bad experience, illness, in most cases - but they do set you apart from everyone else. I have a permanent 'war wounds' as some like to call them, and nobody in the world will have the same ones. I've fought off something trying to kill me - and here are the scars to prove it. Pretty cool in my opinion.
I've inserted some more graphic images below, don't scroll down if you're squeamish. One is of my first scar a few weeks after my operation, the other is of my second scar before the clip stitches were taken out. If anybody is interested I might make a blog post about getting stitches out - it was not pleasant at all. I just quite like the picture because it literally looks like Halloween makeup, and it's sort of amazing to see how quickly my body can heal! The human body is truly amazing - yet another reason why we definitely should embrace our scars.
*Click HERE if you want to donate to my Giving page as I give up chocolate and meat this month to raise money for Cancer Research!*
Thank you for reading!
My first scar after 2 weeks.
The stitches of my second scar after 2 weeks.