Invisible scars

Last night, while pretending I was watching “Dance Moms” with my favorite girl, I saw this Facebook post by Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer:  “Had a ‘friend’ ask me when I was going to ‘get over this whole breast cancer thing’..ummmmm when my chest stops feeling like bricks, when my arm stops swelling, when I stop having doc appts, when I do not have to have another MRI, when there is a CURE!!!”
Shortly thereafter, while still fuming from that FB post, I came across this blog post when it was shared on Twitter by several blog friends. When more than one blog friend shares the same post, it’s worth reading. Surviving Survivorship by Cindy is most definitely worth reading.

This post about the invisible scars from cancer on Surviving Survivorship blew me away. I had to go back and read it multiple times to take it all in. Her depiction of  “the darkness of hovering clouds for the cancer survivor” are so right on, so completely telling. That darkness and the invisible scars aren’t something people like to talk about. The darkness and invisible scars fall into that category of things that make people uncomfortable. I don’t recall seeing anything in the “now that you’ve been diagnosed” literature about the darkness or the invisible scars that would come. I didn’t give  them much thought before my own diagnosis. Even watching my sweet mama die from cancer didn’t clue me into the darkness and invisible scars, because she was an all star when it came to downplaying the horror of this damned disease. Me, not so much.
Cindy writes that “invisible scars are well hidden, not often seen, but most definitely felt.”
Most definitely.

In Cindy’s words:
I wanted to post my thoughts on the topic of invisible scars, and the darkness of hovering clouds for the cancer survivor.  Throughout this document the words “cancer survivor” are loosely used, as cancer survivors are not always quite as fortunate as the words imply.  Yes, their cancer is in remission, and that is incredibly wonderful!  However … the survivor continues to spin, fearful of what may come next. 

Our visible scars are reminders of each step and path along the way of disease or injury.  The invisible scars run much deeper.  Even when the physical scar starts to fade in color and blend in with surrounding skin, the invisible scar residing just below it continues to prevail.
For me, going through major health events, resulted in a darkness like no other.  The darkness hovers, and follows me around like Charlie Brown’s friend PigPen’s cloud of dirt.  This pesky dark cloud of dirt doesn’t magically go away, or even diminish.  It’s a lifetime event.  Actually, it grows with each late-effect side-effect issue discovered.  I may be tricked into thinking it has finally subsided, but its still there, poised and ready to strike at any moment in some new unknown way.
I will say, the invisible scars can show themselves in unkind outward ways.  They are indeed ugly and evil on their own.  Holding inside the frustrations of the incredible physical changes I’ve encountered over the past 7 years takes a toll emotionally and messes with my psyche.  Occasionally, the frustration pours out, like a burst of bad energy. It’s the darkness of the cloud that never gives my pea brain a rest.

We all definitely have our day to day issues to deal with.  Work, the car, the kids, the spouse, the toilet overflowed, the dog ate the cat, etc.  A cancer survivor has those plus these invisible scars weighing them down.

I’ve been weighted down lately. The PigPen darkness has been swirling. My invisible scars are prevailing. It’s something that’s hard to understand unless you’ve been there. We’re told to think positive, be grateful, and savor what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. Good advice, in the abstract, but pretty worthless in the ongoing pursuit of surviving survivorship.
If I had a magic wand, I would wave it over the invisible scars (and the visible ones, too, because those suckers are ever-present and an oh-so-powerful reminder of all the evil that’s been inflicted upon the bodies of those of us in cancerland). I would wave that magic wand over the darkness that envelopes even the most intrepid cancer warrior. I would get carpal tunnel from waving that wand over the PigPen-like clouds of dust that choke out even the most persistent rays of sunshine. I would dislocate my shoulder waving that wand over the morons who ask us cancerchicks when we will “get over” our cancer. (I would likely have my magic wand privileges revoked for whacking those morons, actually. But it would be worth it.) I would tear my rotator cuff waving that magic wand over each and every resident of cancerland to rid the kingdom of darkness and invisible scars.
If only.

16 Comments on “Invisible scars”

  1. When will I get over this cancer thing? When idiots like this stop saying crap like that.

  2. billgncs says:

    my wife wanted to throw a cancer free party, but it isn’t a celebrating event. I heavy weight is lifted, but somehow the shadow remains. Maybe with time it will become a distant memory.

  3. jbaird says:

    I can’t believe this “friend” wrote that to you. People may think that, but to express it to someone who has had cancer? Despicable. I definitely know about those invisible scars. I saw someone yesterday I hadn’t seen in a while and she told me I looked better than she expected me to. I guess my side-effects are invisible to others, but they are very real to me. I don’t know what she expected me to look like, but maybe a bad appearance would have raised up more the sympathy card from her. Great post! xo

    • I have little patience for those comments about how we look. I guess the people who utter them are trying to be positive, and I agree that my surgeons have done a great job, considering what they had to work with, but it’s far from anything I’d consider “looking good.” Instead of efforts at positive platitudes, I’d much prefer someone say “that sucks” or “I’m sorry you have to deal with this.”

  4. mmr says:

    Gosh, your post is so spot-on. Late last week I was at happy hour with two women who have been my friends since I moved here over a decade ago. I mentioned that another friend who had a more recent double MX is now going through the anger/”what have I done? I didn’t know about all these after effects!”stage, just as I did. One of the friends commented on how yes, everyone noticed my anger and then asked why every person who has breast cancer doesn’t automatically see a psychiatrist as part of their treatment. Then she said “But you LOOK great– WHY are you still upset about it?” Since we were in a bar next to a table of men I didn’t want to blurt out some of the realities, physical and mental, that I’ve had to deal with and am still grappling with . And I realized that there is no way I could really convey my loss to her since she hasn’t experienced anything like it. The other friend who was with us is a nurse; she saw my extensive damage after the “surgery gone bad”, helped with gross drains, etc., and over the years she has seen the bodies of patients who had mastectomies. She just looked sadly at me and kept her mouth shut, for which I was very grateful. I really try not to be angry at those times, realizing that I would have been ignorant if I wasn’t on this end of the disease. But still it hurts to have that wedge between me and a close friend, and to have her judge me in that way.

    • Well, Marcie, at least you had one friend who gets it and is compassionate enough to keep her mouth shut. Even if people don’t understand what we’re dealing with, a little compassion is in order. You don’t have to understand it to be sympathetic. As for the wedge between friends, it’s yet another side-effect of this damn disease.

  5. People will always be dumb. You can’t stop that. It’s your reaction that you own. She has her own perspective and it obviously isn’t yours, but her perception of you doesn’t change anything about you.
    So, how do you deal with the “Pigpen darkness”?

    • Savvy, I wish I knew how to deal with the darkness. It’s all new to me, and I’m confounded. Any ideas?

      • mmr says:

        Maybe wine? But don’t go to happy hour with unsympathetic friends. 😉 As I’ve mentioned before, it helps me to see that I’m not in the darkness alone. That’s why this blog helps. And I just found a funny thread in a breast cancer chat room last night– it was called “STFU”, about stupid things people say to women who have BC. Added benefit that I laughed too… I’ve found one person in a support group who is in similar situation to mine and she has also been a godsend. (Note about support groups, though: that one person is out of 50 or 60 I’ve met there; there are a lot of different paths, and nearly all of the women are older who’ve had mastectomy and a very few much younger– I’m late 40’s).

      • Before you deal with the darkness, you have to identify it. Is the darkness your cancer? Or is it the fear of your cancer?

  6. david benbow says:

    Glad I wasn’t that friend. That cloud photo looked like a mammogram. Coincidence?

  7. elizabeth connolly says:

    You are so right. Some things you never really get over. The black cloud is always hovering waiting to engulf you. Even though i have not suffered with cancer myself, it has surrounded my life and taken so much from me . Thanks for the blog. Love Bettyanne

  8. […] Invisible scars → […]

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