Written From My Scars
Does this angle make my wounds look open to you?
I'm looking in the bathroom mirror after my shower. The eucalyptus scented vapors are dissipating.
Eucalyptus, because the jury is still out on the relationship between lavender and estrogen and hormone positive breast cancers....
The adhesive used on my port site last week caused a reaction. And instead of going away, it's creeping across my sternum. An area that was scraped to bone during my 9 hour mastectomy. A tender area that still revolts and fills with fluid on occasion. Like today.
Both upper arms are bruised from wearing my compression sleeves. And another bruise...a mystery-bruise...along the entire inside of my upper left arm. This one is suspiciously the size and shape of a child's head, and I attribute it to four hours spent as a pillow on Monday, while we binge-watched all three Madagascar movies. (If you're wondering, we liked Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted best.) Lymphedema is weird, and I shrug off these bruises.
The skin continues to stretch tight around my mastectomy scars. On the left there's a seroma, a firm lump that gave me quite a scare at first, but scans continue to show it's nothing noteworthy. Recently, the areas where I receive scar massage and ultrasound treatment have bloomed with red, purple, and blue spider veins.
And of course the skin damage from radiation and subsequent burns.
At this time two years ago, a few moments alone in the bathroom to care for my wounds--the wounds that caused these scars--was hard fought. I sold my soul via Netflix and cold cereal. To afford the time to stand in this exact spot and ever-so-carefully soak off my t-shirt when it adhered to healing radiation burns. So that I could apply the gels and foam and grasp, grasp for anything that might ease the pain, speed the healing.
Two years later and the kids are old enough to entertain themselves. No more diapers and very few potty accidents. They're even independent enough to climb for or open most anything they set their hearts on. (Blessing? Curse? Equal parts, perhaps.)
And so I have this time to stare at my reflection and read the story in my scars.
Damn, Januarys are hard.
Three years ago I made it through the holidays on grace alone.
That's not entirely true. Grace, wine, and an occasional oxycodone leftover from my miscarriage in 2011.
We had just moved. My right breast was so painful I lost track of how many times I cried in a day. I felt like I had the worst flu. Ever. Each time I sat down to feed Eli, I fell asleep with my head against the back of the rocking chair. And Eli...poor Eli. My baby wasn't gaining enough weight and cried far too often. He refused to take a bottle and I was syringe-feeding him formula out of fear of dehydration, or worse. On top of that, I carried the fear that something was very, very wrong with my body. That I probably had cancer.
The holidays were a blur.
So when January began--icy, cold, grey January--while everyone else was like, 21-Day Fix, and Bikini-Body Bootcamp, I was pulling my head out of the fog and finding myself a provider that would see a new patient before March.
Which is how it came to be that January 30, 2015 I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, giving a name to my wounds.
I've been following a few new (to me) bloggers, and recently read an article by Liz Petrone about depression, that included the quote, write from your scars, not your open wounds. The advice originates from Nadia Bolz-Weber.
And I wonder now, as I'm looking over these scars, whether I'm following this advice? ....Or not?
Since my radiation was completed 2 years ago, some IBC sisters from my "graduating class", are now having reconstructive surgeries. I'm impressed with their courage and strength, and if I'm honest, a bit envious. A small part of me would like to be able to make this body appear--at least from the outside--whole again.
But mostly, I'm envious that they're healed enough to choose another surgery.
What equips one person to heal faster or more completely than another? Are my wounds still open while theirs have healed? Or are my scars just bigger? Deeper?
These scars I wear...nay, fight against...is this as good as it gets?
Last January I completed my final (for now) surgery, the removal of my ovaries. After, I felt myself slipping into the cave of depression. Partly a hormonal response from removing that estrogen supply, but also out of frustration from the chronic pain and limitations of lymphedema and scar tissue.
I've been scrabbling back.
Still, the other night, I found myself ugly-crying in the middle of washing dishes. Because sometimes, even when your home is filled with the happy sounds of your Littles playing in the other room, cancer is sad. Marking your body and your soul with the scars of the fight, living with the effects, watching friends die from it. It's a big sad pie with a melty scoop of sad ice cream.
Maybe some wounds never fully scar.
Or instead perhaps they do, but those scars need to be bathed with occasional tears to keep from cracking wide open again.
My scars are deep. Deeper than most, I suppose. I've come to realize it isn't fair to measure them against another's. We each heal at our own pace.
Let me say that again. We each heal at our own pace.
All I can do is continue walking that tenuous line between open wound and scar.
Because the scars I'm looking at still have stories to tell.