Mind, Scars and Healing

We’ve all at some time in our lives suffered physical injuries that cause lasting scars. As a kid, I was hit with a tree  branch that cut the edge of my left eyebrow nearly off - requiring many stitches. Sure, like everyone, I too have the small pox arm scars and I’ve accumulated many more scars resulting from years of sports related injuries. My throat was even sliced from ear to ear because of thyroid cancer.

However, nothing quite prepared me for the mental and physical effects of BC (breast cancer) surgery.

In a very real sense, I consider those of us who have faced BC surgery akin to war veterans because our damage is both mental and physical. Sure, you’ll get over the body injuries caused by the surgery, but getting over the mental scarring requires professional help. Don’t kid yourself like I did. I thought I could get over it alone. I had before. I’d already had parts of me removed. Why was BC surgery so different?

I didn’t know it at first because I chose to focus on the illness and every other issue in my life, but BC surgery changed me. It altered an important part of what makes me female; gave me constant reminders by: creating a lump of scar tissue that can be very sensitive; required additional damage via radiation; and even more serious damage from five years’ worth of hormone blocking medication which removed my ability to function or even see myself as a sexual being. Yes, the entire process was physical, but the end result was a sliced up cake of physical damage iced with severe mental scaring. I became a sickness torte, and as result, completely lost “me.”

Thankfully, my surgeon was good and my body healed well. I didn’t need an implant, so unless I look for the scarred area, my body looks normal. Problem was it didn’t function normally. That was actually my first introduction to a serious flaw in the medical industry’s lockstep strategy of treating the symptoms rather than the whole person. If there is no drug to eliminate the symptom, then “you just have to live with it.” Yes, I heard those words from an oncologist. I walked out of that office and never looked back. Then I started looking for answers elsewhere.

But like most people, I had more than one or two worries. So, let’s add a few more reality layers to my self-cake: my mother had died in August , just 5 months before my BC diagnosis the following March. Her death naturally caused the stress of loss and sibling issues surrounding the death of a parent. Six weeks after my mom died I was suddenly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a result of Lyme disease. In November I started having grand mal seizures also a result of having Lyme disease. Sprinkle in day-to-day work related problems, add a pile of unfortunately-timed, very expensive neighborhood/HOA legal stressors…then add BC diagnosis, surgery, and treatment to that mix. It’s now easy to understand why at the end of 12 months, I was an emotional mess and seriously depressed.

Naturally, most of us opt to deal with the easiest problems first. I chose to focus on my physical health problems along with work, property related troubles, and family – in that order. Finally I found a psychologist who would eventually treat me for nearly two years before I was able to get through a day without crying. Therapy is not a quick, inexpensive cure. It takes time, self-reflection, and a lot of work and money. Yet it was only though therapy that I discovered a way to address the important things – losing and finding my female self, constantly worrying about losing my husband, and of course, the threat of BC cancer returning. That last one never really goes away. It lurks in the shadows of everyday life.

Psychological scars are very deep. Don’t neglect the mind just because the body is more obvious.