Scars

In my on going series of posts about my experience with breast cancer, I wanted to talk about the aftermath of surgery, both physically and emotionally.

Here's an image of my right side. You can see the scar running from my hip across my stomach, the scar on my back from the third surgery, and scar on my breast. I've blurred my nipple out.

So, here we go, post-surgery photos.

As I mentioned in “Boobie Wednesday” and “Post-Boobie Wednesday,” I went through numerous surgeries. The first surgery removed my breasts and reconstructed them with muscle and tissue from my abdomen. I awoke after that first surgery in the ICU with nine drains in my body and two pain pumps. So much trauma had been done to my body that I had to be medically sedated to keep from going into shock. An IV in each arm, plus pain pumps implanted in my stomach. A diet of juice, water, jello, and the occasional “treat” of an ice-cold Ginger Ale for four days. It took four nurses to shift my body twice a day to prevent bed sores. It took four nurses to give me a sponge bath. It took four nurses and my parents to get me out of bed to make one lap around the nurses’ station with a walker. A walk that would have taken me two minutes in my pre-surgery shape took me nearly 20 minutes to make. I had to take several breaks. At one point they had to bring a chair for me to sit down in.

Left side.

In the first picture, of my right side, you can see two red welts on my side just under my breast. Those are scars from drains. the red welt on the top of my thigh is one of 13 liposuction puncture sites.

The hardest part of the surgeries was the failure of my stomach incision. It failed after the first, second, and fifth surgeries. My back incision failed in two spots only once, after the third surgery. I was unable to take a picture of my back, but the scar healed thickly; it is as wide as my index finger in places.

Stomach incision. The rippling on my hips is a side effect of the liposuction.

My stomach scar is still very hard and thick. My belly button collapsed three times. What I have today is higher than my “original” belly button was, and I have several thick, hard scars around it and running down from the belly button to the stomach incision.

All in all I am happy with my body, with the breasts that I have now, with the rippled hips and faded welts from liposuction and drains. The scar on my back sits below my bathing suit line and breasts fill out my chest properly. My womanly shape is still here – my breasts, hips, and thighs. The swelling is gone, the scars are starting to soften and the pink and red tones are fading to white.

The hardest part since my last surgery, nearly 11 months ago, has been the emotional aftermath which I wasn’t prepared for. The emotional scars of going through what I went through run deep. I never took time off for my surgeries. I stayed in school full time, scheduling surgeries during school breaks. I tried to come back to the classroom, act like nothing had happened, that I wasn’t hiding bandages and stitches and compression bandages under my clothes. I didn’t tell any of my classmates or professors. I only told my advisor because I was going to have to miss three classes in my second semester. But I downplayed how I felt about it. I didn’t want to be the “sick person.” I didn’t want people making excuses for me, I didn’t want to make excuses for myself.

But in pushing down my feelings about what I was going through I ended up feeling worse. I ultimately hit a wall going 90, my life shattering. I became detached from my work, I stopped caring about school and the goals I had worked for. I wanted so badly to scream to people about what I had been through, to make them understand how miserable and alone I felt in my experience. I felt isolated. I didn’t think anyone could understand what I had been through, the decisions I had made. I didn’t have to have the mastectomies, but it was the best long-term decision for my care, for my quality of life. I didn’t think anyone would understand that. Of course I knew my family loved me, I knew that they had taken care of me and were supportive, but they had never explicitly said that. My mother, a woman who had been through the process herself, had told me one several occasions when I had remarked on my exhaustion and slow recovery that she had “told me so” prior to my surgery but that I “didn’t believe her.” So I stopped talking to her. I stopped talking to everyone. I withdrew entirely from my life. I couldn’t risk having my face rubbed in my decisions. I couldn’t risk feeling more alienated than I already was.

I had pressure from my family to plow ahead into a PhD program, something I was certain I didn’t want anymore, that I couldn’t handle. I applied even though I didn’t want to. I told my family I was working on my thesis even when I wasn’t when I couldn’t, when I wanted nothing more than to drop out of school and never return. The extent of my depression has been expansive. But with the help of a psychiatrist and an anti-depressant, I am coming back. I am slowly starting to get back to work, late yes, but I am getting back. I still haven’t talked to my mother, I don’t know if I ever will. But I am starting to feel like myself again, and that’s all I can hope for.

20 Comments

Filed under Feminism

20 responses to “Scars

  1. I just want to thank you for being the awesome person that you an continuing to share you story with us.

  2. By speaking your truth you gain strength. Scary, given how strong you already are.

  3. Kitteh

    I love you bunches, and I really wish I had known you when you were going through this. I would have been there for you every step of the way. Seriously. But what I think you have gained from this experience is resilience unlike any I have seen in anyone. This is all you. You did it, babe. And your recovery, like you, is remarkable. What you have to remember is that a) you can do anything you put your mind to and b) while your cancer and surgery are not uncommon things, your personal experience of it is, so you are and are not alone, if that makes sense. I’m so glad that you posted this, and I hope it helps you in your recovery. We are here for you if you need us. Don’t forget that. Love you, lady! *muahz*

  4. AwesomeBlossom

    I do not know you, but your body is beautiful for what you represent. Scars or no scars–you have the body of a strong survivor. I am glad you love and embrace the new body.

  5. You are amazing, strong and beautiful. How lucky are we that you are sharing your truth so eloquently and graphically. Your intelligence and courage are inspirational. These photos, are exquisite. They tell your story of survival. They reveal your beauty and strength that we can’t see in 140 characters or less on the Twitter. You are an author. an advocate. a woman with a big voice and command with words. YOU are changing the world. That is worthy of many hugs and your red velvet cupcakes.

    Please continue to share your grace and wisdom (and bark recipes). The world needs you. And we’ve got your back.

  6. Tony

    What an incredible and riveting story. I found it compelling because it was raw and didn’t sugar coat anything. I get the impression that you don’t think you were perfect in the way you coped, and how you’re doing it better now.

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. Darling! Be yourself, you really seem to be good at the expression of your pain and hope at once. My wife went through hip surgeries, not as many and maybe not as bad as yours, but life altering just the same. After the scars lighten, consider a plastic surgeon for some of them, my wife had the most visible one on her lower leg fixed and you can hardly see it, she feels better about it now.

    Do not be afraid, or ashamed of getting the help you need and deserve, we all need others at times. Your sharing this story is likely to help others who have similar problems.

    Some of us who don’t know you in person are pulling for you, life isn’t easy, but hang in there, when you work on through to the other side of these difficulties there can be some great times ahead.

  8. changingmoods

    You are a strong woman and hard as it seems, the pain and suffering you’re recovering from is only temporary. Take your time to get back to that point you consider “normal”—you can’t rush something like this.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. You are an amazingly strong both mentally and physically. I don’t know of many people who could have gotten through what you went through let alone have the courage to write about it.

  10. Bonjour

    Je vais m’exprimer dans la langue de Molière. Quel courage ! Merci de donner de l’espoir à ces femmes qui sentent délaissées, abandonnées à cause de cette maladie et les cicatrices physiques et morales qu’elle laisse.

    I would like to translate this blog entry in french then post it in my blog to share it with tunisians. is it possible?

    Thank you very much. Thank you
    Haykel AZAK

  11. Incredible. I can relate, though, to being slammed by post-treatment depression. It’s taken me 4 years to realize I should have taken it much slower during cancer treatment and for a few months after, but better late than never?

    You say you didn’t have to have the mastectomies, but you DID have to have them! If you didn’t do it at that time, you would have had to do it sometime, maybe it would have been too late. I understand your trying to minimize it (I do that, saying cervical cancer treatment is the easiest to endure, but it’s still cancer treatment), but you made a life-altering decision at an incredibly young age and came through it in spite of the complications of the surgeries alone. You also had to deal with burdens heaped on you by your family, but you did it. You are amazing!

    I don’t blame you for not talking to your mom yet. I’m appalled a mother would say “I told you so…” at such a time! (This all reminds me that I need to call mi hija and tell her how proud I am of her for all she’s overcome in life to be as awesome as she is.) You should be proud of yourself for how you’ve overcome something so monstrously huge as cancer, all the while doing your damnedest to overcome depression, continue working and going to school! (As I often tell mi hija,) You deserve every wonderful thing that comes your way because you’ve earned it and then some.

  12. Just wanted to comment and say what an excellent post. Really thought provoking and honest. I’ve been through cancer (minor stages) whilst doing a phd and it is far from easy. I understand telling everyone what they want to hear (that you’re working on the thesis, that you’re being normal and resuming life) but it just doesn’t work like that. And as you very rightly said it makes you draw back and feel isolated.

    I’m glad to see you’re starting to get a hold on you again. I don’t want to be stating the obvious but be kind to yourself it’s a lot to process, but wear those scars with pride.
    Xx
    Dawn

  13. You have so much courage. I am proud to know you & to read your wonderful insights! Thank you. I have scars from bypass surgery, so I understand.

  14. Deborah splashpinkfifi

    go ahead and forgive your Mom. For YOU. Not doing so is toxic soup you don’t need, brave girl. I am sure she did not mean to hurt you.

  15. You’re a light in the dark. This is the last thing I ever expected to read tonight. And I agree, go ahead and forgive your mom.

  16. Dave Fouchey

    You give voice to those of us who have battled cancer and other debilitating diseases that required numerous surgeries. I have huge divots in my legs where skin cancer was removed and the wounds dehissed when the stitches were removed. The large slices across my abdomen when lipo surgery failed and they had to open me up to remove the gall bladder, adhesions on pancreas & liver and repair two hernias. Like you I am an exposes in the surgical arts but every one says I survived!

  17. Kim

    Thank you for sharing your story, I couldn’t fight back the tears while reading it. You are an amazingly brave woman.

  18. Pingback: “Boobie Wednesday” and the State of Women’s Health | mashrabiyya

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