I received the best news ever from my PET scan – no signs of any cancer! This was wonderful news. After six months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 25 rounds of radiation, I was finally cancer-free! This chapter could end. Life could finally get back to normal. Physically, I was feeling better. I wasn’t sick, I had more energy. I had healed from the surgery, which was tough. I had four drains and it took a while to regain movement in my arms. Everyone was happy and excited for us. I could just be my normal self again.
But I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I tried. I tried so hard to be better. Physically, I was looking less cancer-like. My eyebrows were growing back, eyelashes coming in, my hair, although snow white, was steadily covering my bald head. All the signs of cancer were leaving. On the outside. On the inside, emotionally, it was a different story.
When I heard no cancer, it was as if I could finally breathe. It felt like I had been holding my breath for eight months. I could finally see past that target I had been working so hard for – I was cancer-free. As I took my eyes off of it, I looked around and saw all the things I had not dealt with. So many things I had just turned my head to and kept walking. Everything was such a blur. I had to find a quiet place and tell myself I was okay, only then was I able to start remembering all that I had just been through. It was like I had been climbing this mountain and I had finally reached the summit, but as I looked around for the first time after making it to the top, I had no idea where I was. Everything looked new.
Although my outside was looking healthy again, I was just now seeing my internal self for the first time since the diagnosis. I had thought and tried to be emotionally aware as I went through everything, but it was impossible for me. All my effort went toward staying alive and spending as much time as I could with my family. Now, the only thing that gave me any comfort was looking at my scars.
I had scars from my double mastectomy. I had scars from the four drains I had from the surgery. I still had my port so I could see a tube and a bumpy heart-shaped device just under my skin. I still had burns from radiation. The scars reminded me of everything I had been through. They reminded me I was hurt. They were my evidence that I wasn’t okay. When people would ask me how I was doing and I would say fine, my spirit would leap inside me, shouting “No you’re not!”. I felt like I needed to rip my shirt open and show everyone my scars, screaming “Look what has happened to me! Look at these scars on my chest where my breasts used to be! I am not better! I’m not sick, but I am hurting.”
Scars have a purpose
All of this has given me such a new perspective about emotional pain. As a counselor I have dealt with mental health for 15 years. I have seen bipolar, schizophrenia, eating disorders, self-mutilation, severe abuse, depression, the whole gamut. But now, now, I finally get it at a new level. I understand why people cut themselves and say that they feel so bad on the inside they need something that shows it on the outside. I understand the pain of looking healthy, but feeling completely wrecked on the inside. Your scars give you the reminder that you are not okay, that you have been injured, that you still are injured. They are an outward sign that trauma has lived here and that you are still healing.
This can also be really scary. I can also understand how your scars are a reminder of pain and you may not be ready to deal with it. Maybe because you don’t want to remember the pain. Maybe because you think it will overtake you again. Maybe you fear what all lives there. But I say to you this is their purpose – to be your constant reminder until you’re healed. They are your open door, your invitation, for you to deal with all the leftover junk. Look at them, feel them, remember them. This is where healing lives – behind your hurt.
My wonder is will my physical scars heal and disappear even more as my emotional scars heal? Will there come a time when I have no scars left? Will there be a time when this period of my life is only a story to be told, instead of my identity. Currently, I am nowhere near that point. I haven’t even scheduled my reconstruction because I’m not ready to move on from these scars. I haven’t learned enough yet. I haven’t drank deep enough yet. There is more to learn. These scars have more to tell.
I think about people I know with no physical scars, but that have so much emotional pain. And I am sorry. I’m sorry you don’t have something showing the world how much you hurt. This absence of an outward sign allows you, and your pain, to stay hidden and unhealed. I wish you had scars. I wish you had reason for people to ask you what happened. I wish you had the opportunity to speak your story and release some of your hurt. I understand why people make scars. I understand why your body will produce another illness to give your hurt a home. The body says “I must get rid of this pain. If you won’t deal with it, I will”. Migraines, digestive issues, autoimmune disorders, cancer – they could all be ways that our physical bodies are telling us to deal with the pain. Ways that the body is saying this is what past hurt feels like. Maybe that’s what my body was trying, and is trying, to do. Maybe the scars that I bear where my breasts once were have more to tell, more hurts to share. How thankful I am for my scars.
Tell Your Story
I would love to hear about your scars, those you can see, and those you can’t. I am asking you to tell their story. Be brave enough. Be tired enough, of hurting and holding it in, that you are finally ready to revisit that memory. I promise you it will bring healing. I promise you that God’s grip on you is strong enough to keep you as you look back. The enemy will say to you that if you look back you will be overtaken. This is a lie. If you look back you will see Jesus is there to meet you and the monsters that once scared you can’t reach you anymore because you are covered by His wing.
Show your scars to God first. Tell the One that can redeem it all for good. Before you allow any person to hear your pain, tell it first to the One that loves you most. Let your healing start here.
As I brought all my scars, my pain, my memories, before God, I found they brought me into a deeper communion with Him, my Christ. As I give voice to the stories that my scars beg to tell, I see Jesus, inviting me to get to know His scars even more. As I understand my pain, I begin to understand His – in a whole new way. As I point to the scar from my drain and I tell Him how scared I was when I had surgery, how helpless I felt when I came home, He points to a scar on His hand and begins to minister to me about His pain. He touches my scar with His. I watch as it heals. My scar has provided a space for me to know Him in a deeper way. Maybe this is their purpose.
Our scars are doors. A door for healing. A door for communion. A door for your story. A door you can shut if you don’t feel safe to share. A door you can open if you want to invite someone in.
God, I am so thankful for my scars.
And I am thankful for you. Thank you for reading about my journey. I would love to hear about yours. You can share below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Give your scars the opportunity to tell their story. Your healing is behind your hurt.
Coming next – how to find your scars.
To God be the Glory!