Scars are like a road map of where we’ve been in our lives. A cousin of mine first said something like that to me years ago when he was driving me 90 miles from my home in Western Massachusetts to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
At the time, I was upset about a new scar I’d received. My cousin’s analogy was a way to encourage me to see my scars in a positive way, and that is what I’ve tried to do.
The most obvious scars I have are two thin lines, each a little over an inch long, located under my collarbones — vestiges from the Hickman catheters that were inserted before chemotherapy treatment.
Hickman catheters are small, soft tubes inserted in a large vein in your chest. They are used for taking and giving blood, for chemotherapy medicines that require a large vein, and for intravenous nutrition, medicines, and fluids. My catheter had two extensions (referred to as a “double lumen”).
My mother used to call them my tzitzit, for the specially knotted ritual fringes worn by very observant Jews. Cancer is a serious matter, of course, but she always found a way to lighten things up.
I got the catheters one at a time; the first one had to be removed because it was in for so long that it had become clogged, and then another one was inserted.
Skin had grown around the first one, making it difficult for the doctor to remove. He tugged and tugged, cutting away pieces of dead skin. I thought I might faint.
My stays in the hospital for chemotherapy would last a couple of weeks, and then I returned home to rest and recover before the next round. In the meantime, I had to flush the Hickman daily.
When I felt well enough, I tucked the tubes into my bra so I could exercise. One day before I was to return to the hospital, I played a game of doubles tennis. Lunging for a ball, I crashed onto the court, trying to protect the catheter. But I did just the opposite. The catheter was actually fine, but I was not. The pain was excruciating.
A friend took me to the local emergency room, where I learned that I had separated my shoulder. When I went back to Boston for more chemotherapy, I found that my shoulder hurt more than anything they did to me. I now have a small protuberance on my right shoulder to show for it.
More recently, I got a scar from the surgery on my kidney to remove a small cancerous lesion. I call this my “lucky scar” because the cancer was found accidentally while I had pneumonia, and was removed before it had a chance to grow.
No, I’ll never be a swimsuit model with all of the scars on my body. But then, that probably wasn’t in the cards anyway.
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