Friday, April 4, 2014

Some words of advice to those who don't want the world to know they have cancer

I started this post in mid-2009:

Over the years, I have collected my share of surgical scars - there were the ones that everyone could see and I didn't really care, like knee surgery, or the ones that were so old, like thyroid cancer, no one could see them.

Then breast cancer surgery made all sorts of fun scars. Like a giant port scar on my chest (which they cut into twice just to make sure it really shows) for insertion and removal. The one where they took out lymph nodes by my arm pit (that they also cut into twice so it really shows) once for sentinel node and once for axillary node to make sure there were no more cancer cooties and is visible with a tank top.

Then there is the lumpectomy scar, and the other lumpectomy scar, and the third lumpectomy scar which are usually covered at all times but receive radiation so they really show. Finally, there are the connect the dots on my abdomen from my hysterectomy and my four incisions for my gall bladder-ectomy.

In the midst of all the surgical fun and games, I stopped getting changed at the gym at those few intervals when I actually went. I didn't want everyone to see my scars. I was very careful not to let anyone see anything that might scream out 'SHE'S A CANCER PATIENT' so I made sure I remained clothed. Swimming in public is not an option really these days for similar reasons.

One night I had a brilliant idea and I said to my husband 'I'm going to get up tomorrow morning and go to the gym at 6 am'. Well this was a great idea at 8 pm but not at 6 am. Big surprise, it didn't happen. Then I got a brainstorm, why don't I leave work a little early and go to the gym on my way home before my hair cut. So I put together my bag of clothes and went off to work. I left work on time, didn't get stuck in traffic, and even got a decent parking space at the gym.

I went into the locker room to get changed, which was moderately full, and as I was half dressed, I remembered my connect the dots scar issues. I thought 'what if someone sees my scars????' so I resorted to the really mature 'get-dressed-as-fast-as-you-can-and-pretend-no-one-saw-a-thing'. I always believe in pretending things didn't happen and they don't matter. I know its not mature but it works for me.
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Now its 2014, someone had a blog post recently on surgical scars and showing them.I found this draft post and have done some thinking:
  • I am much less paranoid these days. I have decided that no one can tell if I am a cancer patient unless I tell them. 
  • I am much more relaxed these days. I can actually talk about having cancer with total strangers.
  • Finally, surgical scars are better thought of as badges of pride than of shame.
Now I get changed at the gym and even wear my lymphedema sleeve in public with out a care in the world. 

Time has allowed me to change how I feel. The old adage is true, time does heal all wounds... except sometimes that word 'all' should be changed to 'most'.

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