“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” –Kahlil Gibran
Working Towards Finding Peace With and Pride in My Thyroidectomy ScarScars can be a blessing in disguise. Or at least a distraction, which is something I need desperately right now since I am simply waiting to find out more about my cancer status and staging.
Scars are fascinatingly versatile in their meanings and value. The most interesting parts of a life can be mapped out in scars. On the most basic level they appear unequivocally undesirable. It seems strange to think that anyone would want their body to be marred, to have more imperfections than the ones they were born with. In film and literature, they are often the cause of major conflicts. The scar is how we recognize the bad guy in murder mysteries and westerns. It’s the sign of a tragic past in a former beauty. It’s a permanent reminder of something the protagonist is desperate to forget. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s brilliant short story, “The Birthmark,” shows how obsession with such imperfections can have dire consequences.
But hardly any of us get very far through life without acquiring a few, and once you have them, they become a part of you. For some, they become a kind of bragging right. Think of the famous scene in Jaws when the three men stick out their legs and expose their bellies, telling horror stories about shark bites and fights and sunken battle ships. In part, this scene is so memorable because many of us have experienced a similar bonding ritual: we sit around with a group of friends or a new beau and show off scars, telling taller tales than they probably deserve. I have a scar on my leg that I am actually rather fond of because the story behind it always gets a laugh. People have a natural affinity for storytelling, and in talking about our scars, we have the added bonus of re-affirming our survival.
But there are two kinds of scars that never get mentioned. Some are simply too visibly/visually painful for others. Noah and I spent an entire day of our honeymoon with a one-legged man and neither of us dared to ask about it. Others are a source of shame for the owner. The thyroidectomy scar falls in both categories.
No one brags about cancer scars. Before I was diagnosed, I heard “cancer” and immediately pictured adults with do-rags and bald children, piteous images of chemo’s effects. These are the people who get on the posters and make commercials. But you never see a woman showing off her mastectomy scar. Or someone with lung cancer showing off their lobectomy scar. So why not? Isn’t being a survivor something to be proud of? Why a ribbon or a t-shirt when the body itself is so clearly marked for having fought a battle?
I have many theories regarding the ideologies of women’s breasts and stigmas of lung cancer that I won’t go into here. Whatever the source, these scars come with shame, as does mine. And mine is quite visible.
There have been issues. For instance, it is really only fashionable to wear a scarf if you are using it to doll up an already cute outfit. Wearing a scarf with workout clothes looks strange. Taking a bike ride in a scarf looks strange. Wearing the scarf tightly around the throat so it covers as much as possible looks strange. Despite the scarves, I am still losing the fashionable v. strange battle. But it is better than the alternative.
I went to a check-up last week at the hospital. I figured it would be dumb to wear a scarf, because where else can freaky-looking scarred people belong if not at a hospital? But when I asked for directions from a hospital staff member, she took one look at my neck and said “Oh my goodness! That looks so painful! What happened to you?” I went into my appointment trying to hide behind my hair.
Then my surgeon drained some of the fluid from my neck, which I though greatly improved its appearance. So much so that I dared to meet a beloved family member (whose name I will not mention) at a store without a scarf. Unfortunately, her reaction was worse than the previous one: “Oh no! Cover it up! Oh my goodness, that looks so painful, cover it up!!” After peeling my self-confidence off her shoes, I bought two more scarves.
The inflammation has calmed a bit and thereby, so have the reactions. For the most part, I do not leave the house without a high-neck shirt or scarf. The few times I have, I have been met with pity, disgust, or uncomfortable curiosity. When I am not looking in a mirror or gauging the reactions of people around me, I feel it, pressing in on my throat like a velvet ribbon.
I know these things will fade with the scar, but I am dissatisfied. Why is this not a scar to be proud of? I will have it the rest of my life. In a prominent place on my neck. What I want is the courage not to hide this scar. I want to show it to other people and warn them. I want them to hear about the disease before they or someone they love is diagnosed. I want to say, “this is a mark of survival,” and have people nod in respect and show me their legs or expose their bellies. (Well maybe not bellies.)
Courage has consequences. Am I willing to face them?
Scar on 6.9.11:
Scar on 6.28.11: