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.
The scars breast cancer leaves on our bodies tell a story. What will yours say?
Merriam Webster's dictionary defines the word “scar” as: 1) a scar as a mark remaining (as on the skin) after injured tissue has healed, 2) a mark left where something was previously attached, 3) a mark or indentation (as on furniture) resulting from damage or wear or 4) a lasting moral or emotional injury.
Their definitions are accurate and applicable not only to normal skin wounds, but also to breast cancer. Let's take definition number 1 for example, “a scar as a mark remaining (as on the skin) after injured tissue has healed.” Whether you've had a lumpectomy, mastectomy or bilateral mastectomies, your body will be permanently scarred. Anytime skin is sliced open with a scalpel, no matter how well-trained the surgeon is, a scar will appear after the wound has healed. Skin is the largest organ of the body. It also has remarkable healing abilities. But when the perfect canvas has been opened, the edges never meet properly again. Breast cancer scars are not only lifelong, but they are also life-altering.
Definition number 2: “a mark left where something was previously attached.” Breasts were meant to be permanently attached to our bodies. If that were not the case, we would not have been born with them. But when cancer destroys healthy cells, it is often necessary to remove one or both breasts, thereby resulting in scarring.
The third definition Webster offers under the word scar is, “a mark or indentation resulting from damage or wear.” A lumpectomy or partial mastectomy certainly fits this description. When part of the breast is removed, an evident indention where tissue has been removed is often the result of surgery. The disfigurement, however unsightly, can sometimes be corrected by plastic surgery or other procedures, but there will inevitably be some scarring.
Definition number 4, “a lasting moral or emotional injury,” definitely pertains to breast cancer, especially the latter part of the definition. All men and women who've personally had their lives touched by breast cancer have suffered some degree of emotional scarring.
Scars tell a story. The mark that remains gives evidence of an injury to the skin. The injury may have been accidental or intentional, but nevertheless, a scar is a constant reminder of what once was.
Scars can be used as a sort of life map. As we look at our scars, our memories are jogged. Some scars may tell of childhood clumsiness, surgeries or other painful events. The mark left speaks loudly and says, "Yes, I was injured, but now that wound has healed."
Physical scars are sometimes easier to accept than emotional scars. We know a physical wound will eventually heal. Sometimes that healing isn't pretty, and sometimes it takes a long time, but barring any unforeseen circumstances, the skin will close and a scar will form.
Emotional scars are vastly different. It may take a very long time for the healing process to begin and sometimes, those scars never fully heal.
When I see the scars across my chest, I'm reminded of a difficult time in my life. I'm reminded that a mass the size of a large grape tried to kill me. I'm also reminded not only of the physical pain I endured, but also the emotional pain that is still with me. I'll carry the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer with me until the day I die.
But instead of allowing my scars to demean me, I can't help but choose to look at them as a sign of strength. They are evidence that I have endured through the hard times.
So, Merriam Webster, I'd like to thank you for giving such a clear and concise definition for the word scar. You've hit the nail on the head and you've helped us understand a little more clearly. If you've been scarred by breast cancer, whether physically, emotionally or both, please know that your scars tell your story. They can tell of the pain, the difficulties, the triumphs or joys.
You may have small scars or you may have large scars. You may even have scars that are almost invisible to the naked eye, but remember something other than the dictionary definitions above. Remember your scars tell the world you survived and you need to be awfully proud of that.