Accepting Our Scars as Cancer Survivors

June 3, 2020
Bonnie Annis
Bonnie Annis

Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.

Viewing scars associated with cancer can be a difficult thing, but with a little understanding, it can become easier.

Watching television recently, I was intrigued by a commercial advertising Dove body wash. What caught my eye was an image of an older woman opening her robe in front of a mirror. As the robe opened, I got a glimpse of a familiar sight. I noticed her flat chest and a faint horizontal scar. This woman was a breast cancer survivor, just like me. She’d had both breasts removed, just like me. And apparently, she’d chosen not to have reconstructive surgery, just like me.

The scene I witnessed had been brief. It was toward the end of the video and if a viewer had blinked, that powerful scene would have more than likely been missed.

I sat in awe for a few minutes. The commercial for a new moisturizing body wash had impacted me greatly, but I hadn’t paid attention to the details of the product. My eyes were fixated on the breast cancer survivor.

I wondered if others had been impacted as I had and began to do some research. I was curious how the general public had reacted to the short scene.

Conducting my own internet search, I came across a conversational thread about the commercial. As I began to read how others felt about the breastless woman, I was shocked. Many of the viewers had been appalled at the inclusion of a breast cancer victim in the commercial and had felt uncomfortable by what they’d seen. Comments were made like, “It was a total turnoff,” and “I don’t want to see that!” But I wondered why they felt such repulsion. Could they have no understanding about the devastating effects of breast cancer? Did they really feel disgusted by surgical scars? And if so, was fear a contributing factor in their posts?

Among the negative comments in the thread, there were also positive ones. One viewer wrote, “If it's a woman with a double mastectomy, I'm okay with that. I think it's positive to acknowledge the fact that some women have had double mastectomies and that they have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. A lot of women feel like they're less than because of a mastectomy. I think normalizing women who have gone through that is a positive thing, not a negative.” And another viewer wrote, “I applaud the woman for having the guts to shoot that commercial. I'm sure it wasn't an easy thing for her to do.”

And then there were those who were on the fence like the viewer who wrote, “The women I know who have survived breast cancer make it a topic of conversation whenever they can, but they don't open up their shirts and show you the surgeons handy work. I think it's ok to share up to a point, IMO this is the point. Why would anyone want to show something so traumatic and personal to strangers? I don't want to see it, I'm not her relative or husband, she's a stranger. What are these commercial people trying to say by that display?”

As a breast cancer survivor, I understood the intention of the company was to promote healthy self-esteem. In no way did I find the commercial offensive, but the negative viewpoints of some of the viewers made me feel ashamed to be lumped into the category of women who’d had their breasts removed.

But I wondered, why I was feeling ashamed.

My scars tell a story. They are symbols of a long, hard fight. They represent loss and pain but they also represent life and hope.

I don’t know many breast cancer survivors who flaunt their scars. The majority of the women I know, myself included, don’t make a point of revealing our scars unless absolutely necessary and usually, we’re in a medical setting when we do. Our scars are very private, but if I found myself in a situation where baring my scars would be beneficial to someone else, I’d gladly reveal them.

Breast cancer is not a neat and tidy thing and it shouldn’t be presented in that way. It’s often painful and messy, and life altering.

This survivor feels companies willing to show the beauty behind the pain of cancer should be applauded. And that is one reason I decided to reach out to them and express my gratitude.

Understanding the physical effects of breast cancer on a person’s life takes time, patience, and a concerted effort. Let’s not add to that pain by shaming those who choose to reveal a part of their cancer story.

For those who find it too difficult to view the scars in commercials like Dove’s, avert your eyes, but please don’t pretend they don’t exist. Scars are a necessary part of eradicating cancer and without them, may would not be here today.

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