Year of Hundred Things: “Thing” #97 – Scars

“That’s not a scar. I want to see you in my office tomorrow morning at 9am.” She said, looking closely at the small lesion under my right eye. We were at a baby shower: certainly not a place I expected to experience such an admonition. Three weeks later, the pathology report listed a skin cancer not common in Mediterranean skin types. It was an aggressive basal cell that had begun as a cat scratch and had been growing unabated for seven years. It could have been anything that broke the delicate skin under my eye. It was coincidence that it was my pet cat, having nicked me while reaching for a ball we’d been batting around together. Two months later, I spent three hours in surgery as they cut and cut and cut until three inches had been excised from my right cheek. When they were done, I had a 6 inch, L-shaped scar that extended from the outer corner of my eye, across, and then down the length of my nose. Securing it were hundreds of black sutures. I only knew all of that because my mother described it me, cautiously. I didn’t look in a mirror for weeks. I knew that eventually I’d have to, but at the time, I couldn’t imagine that I wasn’t going to be terribly disfigured. I could think of nothing else but how no one would ever look at me the same way. The scar, as you see in the image attached, is almost imperceptible. All of the anxiety I felt at the time has been lost in the joy and discovery I’ve experienced since. Even after seventeen years, most people aren’t aware of the scar until I mention it. I had an exceptional facial surgeon[1] who performed the Mohs procedure planning for the contours of my face.

So, why do I even mention it?

Because the real scar isn’t the one on my face. I was lucky, in a number of ways. The cancer could have infiltrated my eye, and then my brain. It could have taken my life simply because I wasn’t paying attention to the obvious changes on my face. No, the real scars are far more disturbing than the one that is visible to others.

However, I have made it a point to transcend my scars. I won’t let them live me. I’m sure it sounds incredibly cliche, but the fact is, life is far too short to obsess over whether my right cheek matches my left. There is NOTHING I can do about it. So I have elected to live well and forgive those that caused the scars. I am keenly aware of each one and its impact on me.

I think that in order to keep a handle on those things that could drive us insane, we have to make the effort to own them. By accepting those rocks that are thrown in our paths, we control how they make us feel. We are the sum of our experiences, both bad and good. A whole person can easily be riddled with cracks, and still keep the precious hold we have on our self-worth.

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