Friday, December 2, 2011

Reflecting on the Past 18 Months

I remember being about 5 years old the first time I went to Disney World.   I was determined to ride Space Mountain.  I didn’t know what it was, other than a roller coaster in the dark, and I was so excited.   The line was very long and as we weaved our way closer, there were television screens that would show clips of the coaster and people screaming as they passed by.  My dad kept telling me that I wouldn’t see where I was going like a normal coaster and that if I changed my mind, it would be okay.  One of my dad’s favorite sayings about me “she isn’t a wus”, may have started around that time.  I wasn’t turning around.

Isn’t that life? You cant see where you are going, but you’re going to get there..  Hang on tight, it might be a bumpy ride (from time to time).

The past 18 months have definitely been that ride for me.  It is so hard to believe that 18 months has past, yet sometimes it seems a lifetime.  I do believe my melanoma diagnosis was one of those life changing events that rank right there with losing a parent as a teen, getting married, having kids, the list goes on.  I was so blessed that it was caught early.  I am thankful every day.

When I was first diagnosed, I compartmentalized a little bit.  Rather than focus on what it was, or how I felt, I just focused on taking care of it.

A month or so later, as the itching and tingling signs of healing began, I started looking for pictures of scars.  Since I had a stitch from one of the layers below that popped through, I was worried about infection.  I never found any that looked like mine.  I was struggling with the fact that I had this scar, in such an obvious place as my bicep.  Living in the south, short sleeves and tank tops are a necessity 9 months of the year.  I knew I had a little issue with vanity regarding my hair, it is always long, but I love that it is straight and that it is always healthy enough that I can change the color whenever I want without damaging it.  That is cosmetic.  I have some scars on my face from a dog bite when I was 5, but nobody sees those unless I point them out.  My bicep though, that is a beacon to the world.  Look at me!

It took probably another month or so of healing.  The puckered skin where it was pulled tight, had begun to stretch so it laid down better, the redness lingered (until about the 1 year mark), but it did look better.  People, complete strangers, would ask me what happened.  I would be very open about my experience.  Then I began to really embrace the scar, people really had some misconceptions about all skin cancers, especially melanoma.  So I began to research more.  In researching, I also found a lot of blogs where other people were sharing their experiences.  I loved reading them, but my experience was so different.  I didn’t require multiple surgeries, or additional treatments, mine was a case of the dreaded “just cut it out”.

Although I was finally as content as one could be with the scar, I welcomed winter last year.  While people I didn’t know, or know well, were asking about my scar, people I was closer too really seemed to be either disgusted by it or sick of the topic all together.  The holidays are hard for me, so to be able to ignore the fact that I was now imperfect in their eyes, was something I was content with too.

By spring, the redness had faded more, the dimpling was almost gone.  As the redness faded, freckles along the scar line became more obvious.  It’s a really strange thing, but when the freckles that were pulled together in a straight line showed, the scar began to look worse again.  It took someone pointing that out to me though.  Over the course of about 5 hours with this person, they brought up my scar quite a few times.  Why did it still look so bad?  Isn’t there something I could put on it? What does the doctor say about it?  I found out later that her husband was about to have surgery for one spot of melanoma and one SCC, so I think she was worried about that.  I got home that day, and really looked closely at my scar.  It was a perfect silver line, but the freckles really hid that fact.

Over the course of this summer, I got back into the blogs I had been spot checking throughout the winter, and got inspired to share my story.  If I felt like mine was unique, just as everyone else who shared their stories did, then maybe I would also find someone with a similar story.  Plus, I really had worn out the only people who would listen.  My family never did listen.  They offered me use of their in home tanning bed when I visited and acted like I slapped them when I stuttered saying “I cant tan anymore”. Then caused a scene when I applied sunscreen to my daughter, because she “needed” the sun. They told me I was overreacted when I couldn’t find sunscreen in the car when we decided to stay for a church picnic, said I was making a big deal out of nothing.  I have reevaluated some friendships, ended a couple, allowed a couple to grow stronger.  Although I have not named names and have tried to keep how people are related to a minimum in this blog, I hope now those reasons are obvious, it has been a good outlet for me to share news, vent my frustrations over situations, or just talk out an idea in a way that I can develop it.  I am very thankful for that.

So here we are, December 2, 18 months post melanoma surgery. In the past week, it has gotten cool enough that short sleeves will be put away for a few months.  I can type without seeing my scar out of the corner of my eye.  It isn’t looking back at me when I look in the mirror. I will miss the invitations to share, because people wont know to ask about the scar they cant see, but it will give me an opportunity to practice approaching others, before I begin to speak to groups in the spring.   What was once envy that other people had scars in places that could be hidden, is now a yearning to never have to hide mine, because it is a part of me.

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