The Scars We Cannot See

The Scars We Cannot See…

Have you ever taken time to count up the scars on your body?

I don’t have that many really. I have one by my right eye from when I ran into the stairs when I was a kid and gashed my face nearly taking out my eye. I’ve always been a bit of a klutz. I have one or two chicken pox scars. I have one from a tiff one of my older sisters and I got into once.

And then there are my cancer scars.

I have the “usual run-of-the-mill” breast cancer scars, I suppose. I have the two four to five inch mastectomy incision scars on my chest. Then there are the two smaller ones under each arm from the lymph node stuff. There are several tiny ones from my oophorectomy and hysterectomy. It’s amazing how unnoticeable those are. And then there is my chemo port scar. And the drain scars. And my recent knee surgery scars (yes, I count those as part of my cancer scars).

I don’t think too much about my cancer scars these days, though of course I see them every day when I shower or get dressed. They are always there like “silent loud speakers”.

Some women say they see their cancer scars as badges of honor. They “wear” them proudly. Their scars represent how much they’ve been through, how hard they’ve “fought”. I guess I feel like that too, to some extent. But then again, I’m not so sure. My scars are just there. I don’t feel honored by them. I’m certainly not proud of them and I don’t let others see them. Heck, even dear hubby hardly ever sees them because yes, I am more self-conscious now.

I have a strange relationship with my scars.

Sometimes I see them. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes they bother me. Sometime they don’t. I’d much rather they weren’t there. It doesn’t matter anyway. They’re not going anywhere. They are here to stay.

There have been numerous women who’ve had breast cancer surgeries proudly posing topless, or even in the nude for whatever cause or reason they are moved by to do so for. They claim to be making a statement of one kind or another. Some are showing tattoos they’ve had. Posing for such pictures takes guts. Showing your scarred body publicly cannot be easy. Kudos to them. I applaud them. I do. They certainly are inspiring to many, including me.

But guess what?

I am even more inspired by the women (and men) who share about their inner scars; the ones they can’t see, the ones no one sees.

When you think about it, those inner and invisible scars we all have are the ones that often hurt the most. I have deep inner cancer scars that I have yet to share a whole lot about. In some ways these are the ones that feel most personal, cause the most pain and are hardest to talk about.

These are the scars that take longest to heal, and perhaps never completely do.

Whether you are talking about cancer, or other things that happen to us in life, this is true.

For instance, think about those comments made to you when you were young that really stung. Maybe you were bullied, or ridiculed for one reason or the other. Or, heaven forbid, maybe you suffered from abuse of some kind. Any physical scars you received probably healed much more quickly and much more fully than the ones that were seared into your memory forever.

We all have scars of one kind or another.

Some are easily seen and shared about.

And some are not.

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Cancer or no cancer, what kind of physical scars do you have?

Do you have scars no one sees or even knows about? 

Note:  I chose not to use an image of physical scars anywhere in this post because I feel physical scars do garner discussion. Too often unseen scars do not.



37 thoughts on “The Scars We Cannot See…

  1. My physical scars I can rub Vitamin E into and over time they fade, not much effort in this….. However the mental and emotional scares have taken and will take alot more work and energy and some how I am not sure if they will ever totally fade.. Grief seems to always lurk somewhere, either for how my life may have been without cancer or for the father that I lost when he was 56 to cancer… Just when i think that life is ticking over “normally” something happens to my health as a result of the original cancer and this drags me back into a not so nice place!!… I work hard on the mental scars and mostly everything is ok but sometimes it just bubbles up and quite simply those scars hurt!!

    1. Helen, I know what you mean. I feel much the same as you do; some things remain close to the surface and probably always will. Thank you for sharing about your scars.

  2. I have several keloid scars on my chest and back. They run in the family. If I had had a mastectomy I might have formed terrible keloids. I guess that is an up-side of being diagnosed at Stage IV. I worried about keloids forming over my port site, but my dermatologist recommended having the incisions injected with the steroid Kenalog. So far it has allowed my port insertion and removal scars to heal fairly normally.

    And then there are the other scars. The biggest invisible scar is from my girlfriends freezing me out in grade six. I changed after that. I rely on myself more than I would have if they hadn’t hurt me. Again, there is an upside.

    Whatever the scars, they are part of what brought me where I am, and overall, this is a good place to be.

    1. Kate, I didn’t know that kind of thing is hereditary too. I’m glad your dermatologist recommended the injections and that so far your healing is going pretty well. As for the sixth grade memory, that’s sad. Isn’t it amazing how such hurtful memories remain with us. As you said, we are who we are, scars and all. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Scars hmmm let me count…. I have the scar on my back from spinal surgery when I was 13 I had Scoliosis curvature of the spine…From the top of my neck to my bum I have a scar on my right hip where they removed part of my hip bone to fuse my spine… I have a scars on my knees was active in sports wrecked my knees I have no cartilage left.My appendix scar my “C” section scar my son..The scars on my chest both totalling 27 inches right across from front to back.. The biggest scar I carry is the death of my brother who’s 5th anniversary is in 2 days… That scar is impossible to heal it’s invisible but there.It hurts me more than any physical mark could..Love Alli…xx

    1. Alli, You have lots of scars, but as you said, the most painful one is that invisible one. I’m sorry about your brother. I’ll be thinking of you. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  4. I’m not concerned about my physical scars, although personally, I bristle whenever I hear someone refer to them as “battle scars” as though they are some badge of distinction. To me they are just scars. I didn’t do anything heroic to receive them. I got sick. As for the inner scars and the way I continue to handle them, those I carry with pain and pride and everything between.

    1. Eileen, I know what you mean about that bristling. Each of us looks at our physical cancer scars a bit differently I guess. I like the way you put how you carry your inner scars – with pain and pride and everything in between. Thanks for sharing.

  5. The physical scar on my knee was from 8th grade PE test running around track. I dreaded that all year and fell while trying to run with dirt from Madelia track still in scar! However, the emotional scars I’ve carried since I was 4 when my father died and in those days there were no grief counselors or anyone else it knew who had experienced this loss. I always knew I was different and this stayed buried deep inside for many years. The scars that have sliced my heart apart destroying my self image, self esteem, and self confidence Came from 30+ years of many forms of abuse…. with verbal, mental and emotional during deep within refusing to heal even with years of therapy, support groups, and prayer….. My physical scars from abuse healed quickly and I’ve forgotten them….. Thanks for letting me share.

    1. Sheryl, I dreaded that all year too! Actually, I dreaded PE class period. I’m sorry about all that emotional grief. I didn’t know any of that about your father. It makes me sad that you carried so much grief inside and have endured so many forms of abuse. I’m sorry. You’re so right about the physical scars healing quickly, but the others… Thank you for sharing about such personal things.

  6. Brilliant blog post. I love my physical scars (from DIEP recon/MX scar to an old hip surgery scar). They remind me of how far I have come and what every smile really means to me. The invisible scars are harder to heal, because there is no special cream that can be prescribed! Good luck healing. J x

    1. Jackie, I wouldn’t call this post brilliant, but I’m very pleased you liked it! It’s interesting to me that you say you love your physical scars. Why can’t I love mine? I agree completely about those invisible ones… Good luck to you too. And thanks for sharing.

  7. Hi Nancy,

    I loved this insightful post. As you know, I’ve had a lot of body image issues post bilateral mastectomy and DIEP Flap reconstruction. The body image stuff has cleared up a bit, leading me to acceptance of these reminders of cancer.

    But I don’t think I will love these new parts of me. My friends say that my reconstructed breasts are part of who I am, but in some ways, I cannot accept this.

    The invisible scars are haunting. I have too many memories of going through treatment, coping with a serious disease, and having so much surgery. I have had a lot of emotional turmoil and trauma.

    1. Beth, It’s interesting you mention what your friends say, but that in some ways you cannot accept it. This is especially interesting to me since you don’t have implants. I’ve often wondered if your type of reconstruction makes it “easier” to accept the changes. I guess it doesn’t. I have not really accepted my reconstructed breasts as mine. They still feel quite foreign and I have a feeling they always will. And yes, the invisible scars can be haunting. I know you have your share of those too. Thanks for sharing.

  8. dear Nancy,

    my scars from the lumpectomy for ST IV met BC are nearly imperceptible. but I think the emotional scars of being diagnosed within 8 weeks of Hugh’s death and the nine mos. of treatment following will be with me for a long time. it still seems impossible that the uterine cancer and it’s dreadful treatment left me alone, without my Beloved to be my most treasured comfort. but then, again, I feel relief that he never had hear me tell him I had a new cancer. it’s all intertwined in my head – those scars that so painfully mesh with the loss of him – and coming upon the 1st anniversary of his death, I simply don’t have the wherewithal to sort them all out.

    much love and light to you,

    Karen xoxo

    1. Karen, You have endured so much and now you do so without your dear Hugh. “It’s all intertwined in my head,” yes, that’s a good way to put it. So much pain, so much loss – my heart goes out to you as you approach that first anniversary of his death. I’m thinking of you.

  9. The scars from my mastectomy remind me every single day of my experience. There are some days when I barely think about it, and others when I obsess over it. For me, the scars are one thing, but the discomfort that I feel every day is the thing that most impacts me and reminds me every single day of the procedure and brings back the entire experience. I have my good days and my bad days. It’s all part of my life now, the new me. I try to make peace with it, as there’s not much else I can do. I also admire those women who share their scars, but don’t think it would ever be something I’d want to do. I feel it’s pretty private and not something I want to define me.

    1. Claudia, I could have written those exact words that you did. I feel the same. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts about your scars.

    2. Claudia, I feel the same way, I think because I have scars in other areas of my body and have no need to show them either.

  10. I agree so much with you about the invisible scars – the wounds we carry on the inside that sometimes never heal. So many of us walk around with these scars and no one knows the pain inside. It reminds me of that saying about being kind, for everyone is fighting their own battles.

    1. Marie, You’re so right, Marie, and most of us do have inner scars of one kind or another that mostly go unnoticed by others. Inner pain is perhaps the worst kind too. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment.

  11. Hello Nancy,

    Oh, my! Cancer leaves us quite a trail of evidence of its having found us.

    I have been “cured”. No Definite Evidence of Disease. And the oncologist is pleased.

    I look the picture of health. I paint on the “roses” in my cheeks, draw in definite eye brows, add a touch of lip gloss to make the eyes sparkle, dress well, am neatly coiffed, smile.

    I look normal.

    And yet . . .

    The “scarring” is not evident to others.

    Internal scaring of bowels and bladder due to pelvic radiation.

    Lifelong lymphedema, with its swelling of feet and legs, because of the removal of lymph nodes.

    Chronic diarrhea and the ongoing search for a diet that mitigates its effects.

    All encompassing fatigue that limits activities and increases challenges.

    I’ve lost the “spring in my step”. Walking is now slow and painful because of P I F, Pelvic Insufficiency Fractures.

    Brain fog prevents me from enjoying one of my great pleasures of life: reading. It adds layers of challenge.

    I’ve lost my healthy immune system. Previously I was never sick, no flu, no colds, not anything. Now, I’ve had laryngitis for over five weeks. A previous virus lasted four weeks.

    I’ve lost my profession, my income, my health, my independence. My friends come and go, like a revolving door.

    I have strong faith, but am unable to attend worship services.

    “Scars” keep arriving uninvited on my doorstep.

    Some days they try to steal my joy and my hope. I take courage from sites and conversations like this one, where I find myself in good company.

    Where others, too, face challenges with grace and dignity. We keep on. We keep searching for answers. We keep encouraging each other.

    Thank you so much, Nancy, for providing this forum.

    This is neither a rant, nor a whine. It is simply an “I am here”, a description of a point on my journey. Will I reach wellness? I’ll never know unless I try.

    As Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, everyone.”

    Honey Bee

  12. Really love that you and others address the battle scar/badge of honor–I agree with Eileen there. I still feel as I’ve declared several months ago: hate my scars and how I got them, only love the choice I made in making that lumpectomy scar something I like to see.

    1. Cancer Curmudgeon, Good for you for making that choice about your scar. My scars bother me more on some days than others. And yes, I hate why I have them too. Thanks for reading. Always great to get your insights.

  13. Nancy, so true. Lost both parents to cancer and didn’t know I already had cancer while taking care of my mother. About 3 months after she passed I found out I had cancer. And yes the physical ones bother me and I really never though how much more the inter ones do until I read your post. I’ve had some really “dark days” . Just thought I’d add a guys prospective. You hear “Your still alive” some days and it doesn’t mean diddly some days with all the physical and emotional things you have to now deal with after cancer. Don’t want to sound negative, but the baggage is there. Got to look to my faith and family, it keeps me going.

    1. Scott, I’m very sorry both of your parents died from cancer. That’s awful and must be so painful. Sometimes I wonder if my cancer was growing while I was tending to my mother, so I relate to your words. The physical scars are bothersome for sure, but so often it’s the other kind that cut deepest. And yes, the baggage is there. I do care about the male perspective and wish more men would comment. I have no idea how many men read my blog and so much of this impacts men too, so thank you for sharing.

  14. I have pics of me topless. To me, the physical scars are easier. I remember reading the book, “Little Bee” after I had completed treatment. There was a particular passage in it that stopped me dead. It was:

    “And I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because, take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying, a scar means, I survived.”

    That’s a great quote. Great read as well. But, I agree, it is much easier for me to talk about or look at or allow others to see my physical scars than it is for me to talk about the emotional ones. So, yes, I have plenty of scars that no one hears about (except a select few). And like everyone, not all mine are about cancer. How easy it is for us to offer up a broken limb for healing. How shameful it is for us to admit our emotional vulnerabilities….

    1. GLG, I think the physical scars are far “easier” to deal with too, although I don’t see mine as things of beauty. They remind of cancer, which is anything but. I get it about the survival part, but… it’s just not quite that simple. Interesting quote though. Thanks for sharing it. And your last sentence is sadly, quite true for many people too much of the time. Admitting our emotional vulnerabilities is hard enough and then add shame onto it, well… Thanks for reading and commenting.

  15. Dear Nancy and all those who have opened your hearts on this blog.whether it is visible or emotional scars do remain.far too many genuine lovely people suffer.i have lost loved ones to cancer.x
    myself i am ftm transexual i too have physical scars i hate and emotional scars from abuse
    My love and respect goes out to all who suffer in silence xx

  16. Oh, perfect podium for me to vent!! I love that you call your cancer scars “silent loud speakers”. I had a single mastectomy so far and am having prophylactic mastectomy in November. The inner scar for me is my boyfriend, whom I was living with when I got diagnosed, and with for nearly 3 years, had told me all along “you can live with me until you are done with radiation, then you need to move out.” Since I didn’t end up needing radiation (thank God!) he kicked me out when I still had tubes coming out of my side. I had to move all of my possessions to of his house 10 days after my mastectomy. Inner scars.

    1. beautythroughthebeast, I am sorry about what happened with your boyfriend. How horrible to deal with all that on top of everything else. I’m glad the “silent loud speaker” thing resonates with you. To me that’s exactly what my physical scars are. And those invisible ones, well, those are much “louder” in some ways and a lot more difficult to deal with. Thank you for reading and sharing. Feel free to vent any time.

  17. I like the “silent loud speakers” metaphor, too. I liked my scar at first, I thought it was “awesome” and yes, such a “badge of courage,” lodging right up there with my other badges of Womanhood (age spots, wrinkles, grey hair) and Motherhood (stretch marks, C-section). Gradually the mastectomy scar didn’t feel so courageous, and now I call it more of a “brand,” like when slaves are branded or cattle and oxen. Branding implies ownership, and I don’t want to say cancer “owns” me but I feel a bit “possessed” by the disease and “marked” and marred by it. I like the comment that scars only happen to the living, not dead tissue. That’s a good reminder.
    The inside scars, those are another story, aren’t they. I have my hair, I dress nice, a smile is a bit hard to summon most of the time, but people think I must be “ok” now. I guess I’m whining for sympathy and to be noticed. I wish I felt as normal as everyone thinks I look. I don’t wear the $500 fake boob b/c it makes me feel even less normal (now that I am the “new normal” which is NOT normal), and no one notices. Truly, no one is looking at our chests! I am petite and small busted so the uni-boober effect is lost on the public. Even my good side looks flat. If I have to face the “reality” of lopsided chest, the rest of the world does, too. This summer my bathing suit is going to be sewn flat on the left side.

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