Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

DECEMBER 27, 2017

As trite as it sounds, some of our scars are invisible while others are all too obvious. I have some of the former and one whopper of the obvious sort. Over the years since the mastectomy, it has faded to a very thin line, the same color as the flesh around it. But there it is. And there the breast is not.

Honestly I barely notice it. When I am dressed, no one knows (or at least no one would know if I would keep my mouth shut), and, without clothes, it is now just as familiar a part of me as any other body area. When asked how I feel about the decision not to have reconstruction, I say something like: "I don't love how I look, but I am totally adapted to it, and I never regret the decision." I hope we can all come to that place.

And remember the line from the Carly Simon song: "It takes a really big man to love a really big scar."

From The New York Times comes this essay:


Learning to Accept (if Not Love) My Scar


Kari, my new personal trainer, had me down on the mat when, in the middle of a tough set of obliques, my T-shirt rode up and revealed “it.” It was a 16-inch-long scar that runs from below my navel to my breastbone. Kari didn’t hesitate to ask: “What’s up with your scar?”

Although “my scar” — and I do feel proprietary about it — has been a part of me for more than three decades, an answer still doesn’t come easily. My first inclination was to pretend I hadn’t heard the question. Then I briefly considered telling her a flat-out lie: “I was shot in the stomach” (I once knew a guy with a similar etching on his belly that really was caused by a gunshot
wound). Finally I settled on the truth: “It’s from a long-ago cancer surgery,” I explained, outing myself as a member of the“cancer club.”

In 1984, after an eight-hour operation to remove cancerous lymph nodes from my abdominal cavity and two weeks in the hospital, I went home with my scar. It’s actually a remarkable wound — sutured with silk, woven with wire, and zipped up with no-rust staples. At the time I was single and 26. For more than 30 years I’ve wrestled with how to come to terms with all that it embodies — and how to talk about it.

At first, when the wound was still red and raw — and so visible, before my chest and belly hair grew back — I didn’t want anyone to see it. Including me. I was embarrassed to take off my shirt in a locker room or at the beach. At home alone, I’d undress in a dark closet to make sure I didn’t catch a glimpse of it. Every so often, I’d step out of the shower and see that rough-hewed line, and it would set off an avalanche of emotion. It wasn’t just the obvious disfigurement. The scar represented the loss of my younger self’s sense of invulnerability, and — no surprise — triggered a fear of death.


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