“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’.” -Chris Cleave, Little Bee
Beth Whaanga knows who her friends are. She’d had breast cancer, so I bet she kind of knew that before the big deal this past week, before she posted photos of her post-breast cancer body on Facebook and got promptly defriended by 100 people. In any case, she knows now. I wonder if losing that caliber of “friends” feels like a loss to her at all.
Those of us who have been there know how hard-earned Beth’s scars are. We know that they represent the many ways that breast cancer changes you, forever. We can celebrate the advances in reconstruction, we can pursue a new normal, we can rock the new “front porch”, but the fact is, the scars remain, on the skin where you can see them, and underneath where you cannot. They are red and angry for a time, and then they fade; it takes some more time, but eventually they blend in, until you hardly notice them. You get used to how you look now, you almost forget how it was before. You survive.
Knowing this, I am vaguely annoyed at the defrienders. I think Beth was brave, and vulnerable, and real and that her 100 “friends” were not. To be fair, I do not know why they chose to defriend her after the photos, though they must have been, at best, uncomfortable. Maybe they have good reasons that I haven’t thought of yet.
It has me wondering about how I relate to my scars these days, and I find I am not sure. I know how I thought about them in those first days, weeks, months: they represented pain of many kinds, but each surgery (there were four) and its resulting scars signified another step toward survival, and my hope for a life beyond breast cancer. And that I celebrated, scars and all.
I mostly ignore my scars now, which I tend to think is good, because they have become a part of me, and because it is getting hard to remember what it was like before. I don’t linger in front of the mirror because it is what it is. I have moved on. It has been eight years, after all. It is easier now.
Except that the truth is – and please don’t tell anyone this – that when I am seeing a new doctor, for example, or changing at the gym, or if am overtired or otherwise feeling sorry for myself, I sometimes feel ashamed of them. I wish I didn’t have them, or I think think that they could and should be helping me out by looking a little better. Or by not being there at all. Sometimes I even pretend they are not.
When I really think about it, I could be a better friend to my scars. They formed on me as best they could, literally putting me back together, allowing me to go on. They signified survival and a reassurance that I was, at least for the moment, among the living. They are a beauty in themselves; why don’t I think of them that way? Just like Beth’s former “friends”, I have defriended my own scars because they sometimes make me uncomfortable. I feel bad for abandoning my old friends.
Don’t worry; this Beth is not going to be putting her body on Facebook anytime soon. But brave Beth Whaanga has my admiration, and my gratitude for reminding me that scars can show you who your friends are. We must see all scars as beauty. Maybe let’s not keep it our secret.