I started writing this post in early September of last fall, after taking a long look at the 11-centimeter (just over four inches) surgical scar that starts at the bottom of my belly button and makes its way down my lower abdomen on to my pelvis. When I started writing it, I was feeling optimistic because it was starting to shrink and fade, but my mood shifted as I started to think about it being a lifelong reminder of what I continue to live through. I forgot that I had started writing it until recently when I read a post on Nursing Notions site titled ‘Not Yet Defeated’ about her experience with surgery and healing.
As I wrote last September, it hit me that my scar is more than a thick, raised, itchy, line in my skin that will never completely disappear. It is a constant reminder of so much. This vertical line is evidence of the most significant attempt to resolve the suspected cause of my chronic abdominal pain and the pain that grew from it and now radiates down my legs, out into my hips, and up my back. It is a reminder that a surgical team led by one of the most skilled surgeons in my city sliced through layers of my skin, fat and muscle that protected my abdominal organs to explore the space cradled by my pelvic bones to find the growth that shouldn’t have been there and remove it. My fading surgical scar will always remind me that although the surgery wasn’t as invasive as expected and the growth was cut out, it failed to get rid of my pain.
That may be the worst thing about having to look at my scar each time I undress or every time I touch it to scratch the itch: I remember the failure. The itch tells me the scar is healing, still shrinking, while my pain remains the same. Eighteen months after my surgery, regardless of how liberally I massage rich moisturizers into my skin, the itch won’t go away. Before the creation of my scar, I had already been through so much. Now, while it sits so prominently on my lower abdomen, I continue to live with the pain and more failed treatments. I thought that was more than enough. That was until I started planning a trip where I’ll have a chance to submerge my body in saltwater then allow myself to float to the surface towards warm rays of sunshine. Then, for a moment, I felt something unexpected…
Apart from my doctors, some family members, and a few close friends, I’ve taken comfort in not having to show my scar to anyone. The thought of having anyone stare at my scar is unsettling, and I’m not ready to have it become a conversation piece. When I pulled out my swimsuit bottoms recently I unexpectedly felt overwhelmed with self-consciousness. I’m no exhibitionist but I’ve always worn fairly conservative two-piece swimsuits because a one piece/maillot reminds me of high school gym classes. This means that to enjoy the water the way I’m looking forward to I need new swimwear because everything I own puts my once scar-free abdomen on display.
After anxiously searching online for hours, I finally found bottoms that cover my abdomen all the way up to my belly button completely hiding my scar. I know that in the grand scheme of all I’m living with this probably sounds vain and superficial, and it shouldn’t be a big deal. However, it’s a big deal to me because it’s another thing, more change, for me to adjust to. My life changed the day my pain started, it changed after each inconclusive test and invasive procedure to get to a diagnosis, it changed again with the first slice of the scalpel into my flesh and each stitch to close me up, and it continues to change with each failed treatment and every handful of pain medications I swallow daily.
My scar will always be with me as a symbol of what I have to live with because of my illness. My frustration is not knowing when or how deeply, coming into awareness of more changes will affect me in the future. However, I must believe I can find ways to live with it all: this time it’s in the form of spandex and nylon swimsuit bottoms. And I’ll do whatever I can to adjust to the next change when it arrives.