How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Scars

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This is Frankenstein, not an image of the author.

This is Frankenstein, not an image of the author.

I had two surgeries last week. I’ll write more about why soon but for now let’s just say these surgeries will leave 4 three-inch scars inside the elbow of my left arm. Appropriate in light of last week’s Halloween celebrations as it looks like I was clawed trying to escape Freddy Kruger’s evil grasp.

After the surgery I looked at the incisions and their primitive looking stitches. At first they seemed fake. Like I was looking at a clip from a Frankenstein movie. In fact I felt a bit like Frankenstein. Made into a person, a different person in my case, whose flesh had been crudely stitched together. All week I’ve been thinking about these scars. Will they heal into thin lines looking like my cat scratched me? Will it look like I tried to commit suicide? Or will it look like I’m a cutter who dug deep into my arm as a way to feel relief.

It’s funny; it’s not the scars themselves that concern me. It’s the story people will weave about me when they see them that worries me. Yesterday, I even found myself dancing in the mirror pretending to be at a club with my arms over my head. Despite the discomfort, I did this weird jig just to see if the scars will be faint enough to wear a sleeveless get-up. First I laughed at my dorkiness and then I remembered. It will be dark. People will be tipsy.

Having had two lifesaving kidney transplants and countless related surgeries and procedures, I’ve always found my previous scars to be battle wounds I wear with pride. They represent the second and third life I’ve been given by my mother who gave me the first transplant; and the generous stranger who upon her untimely death gave me the second transplant. I can’t find anything but humility and gratitude when I look at my kidney transplant scars. They are not available for public consumption to judge. These scars are hidden and do not shock or dismay those who are close to me. So I love them. Those who have seen them already know the real story. And I like it that way.

I read a piece yesterday about a woman whose self-esteem plummeted when she had to have a dime sized skin cancer removed from her perfectly “beautiful” arm. I thought, “What a self-centered bleep. Doesn’t she know what she narrowly missed? Why is she focusing on a scar left from a life saving procedure?” I know to some it may seem like the voice in my head is being a little bit harsh. But isn’t it always?

My mom’s childhood friend, the one that introduced my parents to each other, just had his leg amputated. You know why? Because a skin cancer went untreated on his leg for years. Skin cancer is no joke. I’m not sure if our family friend, a man in his mid-seventies suffering from a number of illnesses, contemplated the attractiveness or beauty of the new body that surgeons had assigned to him. I have a feeling he just thought about the tremendous pain he was in and the fact that he’d never walk on two legs again.

My scars seem minimal in comparison to the loss of our friend’s leg or any potential body image crisis he may face as an amputee. Really getting into his reality has made me reconsider the potential reception I’ll get from others who see my new scars.

I have a choice right now. I can choose that there will be something ugly on my arm that will take away from my value as a person. Something to be ashamed of. Or I can choose to acknowledge what a blessing it is that I have an arm at all. I know that those who love me don’t love me for my arm. That would be silly. After a lot of work around my own body image, I know in my core that I am valuable–for my insights, my strength, my mischievousness and even my Santa Claus chuckle. It is all these qualities that make me beautiful.

To read more on body image and amputation: inMotion: Body Image: Acceptance is Step One.

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  1. Here is a poem I wrote about a surgery I had that left a scar. At the time, you will see, that it wasn’t the appearance of a gash on my stomach I was worried about. Your essay made me try and remember what I thought about that scar. Perhaps it was my age–I was only twenty-three–but I don’t recall worrying about what others might think. I have always worn a two-piece bathing suit since that time. I’m kind of proud of it because it was a very rough surgery and serious too. I look at it as my mark of being a survivor.

    Lemon burst

    When I was twenty-three,
    a cyst the size of a lemon
    burst inside my stomach. Until then,
    it had lived a life of anonymity
    attached to my right ovary.
    And I wondered:
    Why the sudden need
    to become known? To leave a hole
    to be sewn shut
    by a surgeon surprised to find
    a river of scarlet like
    the Nile after Moses touched it
    with his God-given staff.

    In its wake, an eight inch scar like
    a brief note scribbled
    on a bathroom wall: “I was here.”
    The misguided scalpel had etched
    an uneven line that ran from just above
    my pubic bone, to just below my sternum:
    A thick stretch of skin that would be tightened later
    after another surgery caused by that very same cyst.

    When I awoke, groggy from clouds of anesthesia,
    industrial-sized staples climbing
    up my belly, I asked “will I be able
    to have children?”A surprising question
    from someone who confessed never to want them.

    Leaving me to wonder how
    such a faceless intruder could be
    so human.

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