Surgical Scar Struggles

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.

New Swimsuit Bottoms

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10 thoughts on “Surgical Scar Struggles

    • Thanks for this.
      I meant to contact you to let you know that reading your post led me to some introspection about my scar and much more. At this point, my scar is just one more thing I hadn’t taken the time to process and I’m aware that it’s not possible to work through everything at once, but at least (hopefully) as other things arise I won’t be as overwhelmed.
      It has taken a lot of work for me to be able to lean into things connected to my illness without heavy dark clouds lingering for long periods.
      Thanks again 🙂

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      • It takes time. I’m not all rainbows and sunshines all the time, far from it. A week or so ago (for a couple weeks) I was extremely down and stressed, not sleeping well. Our lives are like rollercoasters. We better get better at dealing with things in time, but we are bound to have bad days and weeks even. As long as we don’t get stuck and figure out how to work through it with the proper support system. So hang in there and keep fighting.

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        • I agree with you: it does take time.
          Thankfully I’m learning different skills to cope with the down times because my pain is definitely affected by my mood.
          I’m also very fortunate to have a good support system.
          I hope you continue to get better physically and with coping 🙂

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          • Oh yea, I agree about the whole pain being affected by mood. I’m the same way, and I think most people, if not everyone is the same way. Thanks for the well wishes, I wish you the same!

            Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve had open heart surgery and our scar stories are almost the same. It itched for years and it was the spot I never touched. At first it was something I’d show off. After a while It was just part of me but I’d still see people looking at it. I even had a lady just reach out and touch my chest and say “Oh my”. I was ok with that only because she was a pretty Asian lady 🙂

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    • I’m assuming your surgery was a complete success 🙂
      I wish you hadn’t said your scar itched for years. It drives me crazy to have this area on my lower abdomen that needs constant scratching.
      I guess the nice thing for me is my scar is always covered. I can’t imagine someone walking up to me and reaching down to touch my scar :S

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh…
    Acceptance.
    Such a little word that encompasses so much. It has becoming one of the beacons of my chronic pain journey.
    My scar is on my back- liucky the 2nd surgical scare there follows the path of the first. Amazing how neatly these surgical teams work…how gentle they try to be so that when they are done working all their magic in there with all their tools and our our organs and bones and arteries and everything they leave just a simple clean line behind.

    As I read~listen to your story I was transported by the vision of you being ABLE to vacation, to be ABLE to go to the seashore, to float in the ocean!
    My journey with pain has taken this former big time outdoorsy, athletic, surfer girl into her room- I am a shut-in now who lives in a hospital bed with her 85 year-old mom as my car-provider.
    Acceptance.
    Ahhh…
    Acceptance

    And gratitude!
    Gratitude for all the miracles- they’re everywhere if we but chose to see them.

    Enjoy the beach! Do some floating for me.
    I’ll be celebrating your new bathing suit!

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    • I’m sad you won’t be able to do your own floating.
      Acceptance hasn’t come easy for me and I’m still working on it in many areas.
      I’ve been shut-in since the start of my illness because of my pain and it’s been difficult to adjust because, like you, I lived a very active life before all of this. I’ve had to stop thinking about what my life used to be and accept it for what it is now because it was really affecting my mental health.
      My pain specialist told me over a year ago that I could travel, but the anxiety of being far away from the medical support that is familiar with my case in the event that I might have a bad pain flare up has kept me grounded.
      Fear has become a constant companion for me since becoming ill and I’ve decided that it’s time to change that and roll with whatever comes with it.
      I’m sending you good wishes and hopes that your health won’t always keep you away from the things you love doing.

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