One JMU senior describes how she came to love her scar.
STORY | RACHEL PETTY
PHOTO | JORDAN COOK
“We’re going to have to keep her overnight.”
I heard them through the anesthesia as I awoke from a deep rest. “Overnight?” I thought. I was 19 and having surgery to get a nodule removed from my thyroid. There was a 99 percent chance it was benign and I’d be out of the hospital the same day.
I struggled to get out of the blankets, sweating, but found it difficult — my legs were wrapped in compressors to keep the blood flowing. The bright lights glared at me. I saw a disk resting on my chest. When I tried to pull on it a nurse grabbed my hands.
“You have to keep that there, sweetie,” she said. “It’s a drain that’s attached to your neck.”
Before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the recovery room, with hundreds of white hospital beds surrounding me. I remembered what my mom told me earlier: “Cry if you want them to let me see you.”
I’m not sure whether it was that thought or my discomfort that led me to cry. “I want to see my mom!” I bellowed between sobs. A nurse came over and put something in my IV, and I calmed down. What seemed like a few minutes later, I saw my mom out of the corner of my eye. She was sitting to my right; everything would be OK.
My surgeon was sitting to my left, asking about my pain. Even though I was hazy from the medication, I knew something was wrong.
“We had to take out your entire thyroid,” he explained. “We found cancer in the nodule, so we took everything out as a precaution.”
My eyes welled up — how could I have cancer? My surgeon assured me that the recovery rate was extremely high and I shouldn’t worry about chemotherapy since the cancer was Stage 1. I closed my eyes and fell into a peaceful sleep.
I recall very little from the next few hours — my dad meeting us in the pediatric unit, my boyfriend texting, “Is my pretty girl out of surgery yet?” and a strange urge to use the body scrub from my cousin’s get-well basket. Anesthesia does crazy things to you — I took my socks off and demanded that my dad wash my feet.
I knew I’d have a scar after the surgery, and it’s all I thought about. Once the nurse came in and I was cleared to stand, I slowly made my way to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror and didn’t see myself. There was a foreign, horizontal brown line decorating the middle of my neck. I wanted it gone. I had the urge to peel away the glue holding it together, like how I peel my nail polish off when it has even the slightest chip.
This scar would be there forever. I knew it would fade, but it would never be completely gone. I hated how it looked. I wanted my old neck back, my smooth skin I could adorn with necklaces — not this one I desperately wanted to hide.
For months after my surgery, I was angry. I wondered why this happened to me and got offended when people stared at my neck. I bought scarves, turtlenecks and tried covering my scar with makeup. I bought creams and oils, but nothing seemed to work. I got injections to make it less raised, but the pain wasn’t worth it.
Drunk people would ask me about it at parties and I would sneer, secretly feeling hurt — like it’s the only thing people noticed about me. It was the first thing I saw when I looked in the mirror or at photos. I dressed up for a black-tie wedding in a Calvin Klein gown, my hair and makeup done, but I only saw the scar.
I never wanted to say the word “cancer,” but the scar was evidence — cancer was painted on my body. My friends and family told me I was beautiful and that it wasn’t very noticeable, but people still stared. It infuriated me even more when they wouldn’t ask about it. “Sure, just stare at my neck and don’t say anything,” I thought.
After about a year, I stopped noticing the scar myself. Although still visible, it was starting to fade. I’m not even sure how much it’s faded — I’ve just gotten used to seeing myself with it. I wasn’t going to let this tiny bump hold me back. This was my body, and it wasn’t going to change. I learned to love it for what it is.
It still bothers me now and then — it gets irritated sometimes and turns dark red when I drink. I don’t like to wear necklaces because I think it draws more attention to it.
It’s been over two years since my surgery. The important people in my life don’t even know what I look like without it. I know I’m still the same person and that this scar doesn’t define me — it’s a symbol of something I overcame.
People still ask me about it and some people stare, but now I laugh it off rather than feel hurt. Without this scar, the cancer would still be there. In a way, it saved my life.
I’m not sure I’d recognize myself without it.