“Battle Scars”

Although I have gone through some very challenging moments in the last few weeks, nothing prepared me for the visit I had with my oncologist a few days ago. Honestly, I don’t think anything could have. It is what it is. It turns out that chemotherapy is no fun. I’m shocked.

It was my most dreaded trip to any physician I have ever had in my life because this was the appointment where I would be discussing my chemotherapy treatment with my oncologist in detailed and concrete terms. I would come out of that appointment with a start date and that was petrifying. I am healing well from my mastectomy, and it was time to talk chemo. They sure don’t waste any time. I walked down the long hallway (it felt as if it had grown a mile since I was last there) to the lobby of the Cancer Center and I told my mom that I really felt as though I was going to pass out. I did not want to be there. I did not want to face the realities of what was about to happen to my body. I just wanted to get out of there. I wanted to turn around and run back to my old life.

My oncologist sat down with us and stated that he first wanted to go over the pathology results from my surgery and then we would discuss my chemotherapy treatment. He explained to me that my tumor size was a three on a one to three scale. Basically, it was the most aggressive type of tumor there can be. Go big or go home I suppose. He also explained to me that my cancer is stage three when my doctors and I had previously thought it was stage two. He continued to break down other aspects of my path report and I digested some portions and not others. My mind was on the chemo. And then it was time.

My oncologist explained what the chemo treatment will entail and that it will span over approximately four months. He named the drugs I will be given: doxorubicin hydrochloride, cyclophosphamide, and paclitaxel. Tears silently streamed down my face. The plan was being mapped out. The risks and side effects were being listed in full force. Hair loss, weight loss, appetite loss, change in taste, aches, pains, bleeding, mouth sores, allergic reactions, swelling of the ankles, hands, and feet, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, bone pain, muscle pain, joint pain, sweating, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills…

Port scars.

I would need to have a port. I do not want a port. I had been pretty adamant about that one up to this point. I guess sticking a device in my chest is where I draw the line. Who knew? He explained to me that he had never given a patient with my type of cancer this type of treatment without a port but it was not impossible. Oh, but he highly recommended me having a port. Sure buddy, I am just going to go against your recommendation that you give highly. I know best. He discussed how hard the chemo is on the veins. Also, there are the potential issues with the IV and the drugs leaking out (what??!!?!). Basically, if the drugs leak, it can burn your skin severely and some patients even require skin grafts after all is said and done. I listened. Sort of. After he was finished I stubbornly told him how much I still did not want a scar from the port. I then proceeded to explain to the highly-respected-cancer-specialist-physician how I thought his team could administer the drug intravenously without harming my skin. I had a plan. Maybe they just had not thought it all through. I guess I became a doctor last week. Did I fail to mention that? Oh wait, no. I became a lawyer. My mistake.

Friends and family of mine have referred to the scars as “battle scars” as if that type of rock star description makes it way better. Well, it doesn’t. I understand they are just trying to help, but I don’t want any more scars. I have enough.

I am sure some people will wonder why I am so concerned about a port scar after I went through a double mastectomy three weeks ago. It seems like chump change compared to that, right? When my oncologist was describing the pros about getting a port I felt as though we weren’t really connecting regarding my concern about the scar and that was frustrating. In the long term, yes, I am sure it will help me, hopefully save my life. In the abstract, and from a logical standpoint I fully understand that. But as a young woman, my concern is on that scar that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. One that will stare back at me each time I look in the mirror. I just want my body left alone! I DO NOT need more indications that I had breast cancer. Call me crazy, but my thoughts easily wander to my wedding and I get so saddened by the thought that one day it will be my wedding day and I fear that all I will see when I look in the mirror when I put on my (Vera Wang) dress (fingers crossed) is that scar. I can’t wear a turtleneck to my wedding. Ok, ok, who are we kidding? I could probably pull that off.

A few days later I was watching Oprah’s Lifeclass (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it). I have become über reflective these days. The topic was about living in the moment. Instead of letting life and all of its chaos deprive us of actually allowing ourselves to participate in our own lives, we must actively stop and consciously decide to be present in the moment we are living right now. One facet of the show was the story of a burn victim and her journey and I started to feel absolutely ridiculous. This young woman was in an airplane crash and subsequent explosion and survived. Talk about rock star. She has her own share of “battle scars.” They just so happen to be burns from the explosion that cover approximately 80% of her body. She has four children and is in constant pain. Her burns are so bad that she cannot pick up and physically comfort her own children. And here I am worried about a port scar? In the words of Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, “Really??” Wow, Abby. Just wow. Oprah would be so disappointed. I am not belittling myself here, but my eyes were opened and I thank God for that. People are not the scars they have and shame on me for ever allowing myself to go there.

Although I have had the inescapable moments of facing my own mortality through this whole process, I realized something last night that really stuck with me that I feel compelled to share: you don’t have to face a life threatening illness to change your approach to life. Sure, this process has opened my eyes and I will never be the same. The Abby that I am trying to run back to is never going to be there again. There are things about me that are transforming, my view of the world is forever altered, and fears of mine are evaporating. I am exceedingly thankful for each breath I get to take, and each new experience I encounter. Many days I look outside and delight in the fact that I get to witness another fall, my favorite season. The vibrant colors are so lovely and that nostalgic, autumn scent in the air gives me a kind of comfort that it never has before. I cherish every single moment. Just because I happen to have come face to face with cancer and I have this ultimate excuse to take considerable pause and truly reflect on where I am and what I am doing here does not mean you are required to go through something of this magnitude to take your own pause. Take my story and those of others and allow yourself to have that moment right now. We cannot control the future and we cannot change the past. So, live in the moment. That is all we can do. Don’t wait for cancer, or a plane crash, or some other devastating event to change the way you approach life. Life is just too precious for that.

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19 thoughts on ““Battle Scars”

  1. Abby, not to belittle your feelings but to simply share, when I look at my port scar – it reminds me that I am a Survivor. And when I put on my wedding dress, two years ago (3 years after having been diagnosed with Stage III Melanoma), I never even thought about how my port scar would show in my wedding dress – and I am sure it did since I had a sleeveless dress with some tasteful cleavage. Maybe my feeling are different because I had skin cancer, so I have no choice but to have visible scars, or if is because my Wedding Day trumped any scar on my body because I was alive to get married to my darling husband (who held my hand every step of the way thought Chemo and Surgeries).

    Your doing AMAZING considering everything you have ahead of you, keep working through your feelings, keep posting and keep LivingSTRONG! (and as much as you hate it, I highly recommend you consider getting the Port, your veins will thank you 4 months from now!)

  2. THANK YOU for being so truthful & so brave! WOW —what a wake up call for all of us able to read your words of wisdom . You have truly stirred my heart(as I sit here with tears running down my cheeks)! Continuing to pray for you!!!!!!!!!!! XO

  3. I am Alysia Lim’s stepmom and a cancer survivor. I had melanoma. I hate to give advice or my opinion regarding cancer treatment choices. However, go for the port. I had a skin graft and that left me with a large donor spot scar approximately 4″ x 7″. The pain from that was worse than my chest excisions. You are riding this crazy rollercoaster with grace and bravery. God bless.

  4. I’m speechless right now… I can see how this is therapeutic for u to share. Thank you so much. I almost feel like I’m right there w/ u. You r so right about living every moment for what it is. I honestly struggle w/ that at times. I will keep praying that God gives u the strength for each new day. Luv u!!

  5. Abby, the legal term for the oncologist’s remarks as you well know is “informed consent”. The medical term is “hanging crepe”. It means that if you paint the picture very darkly and it turns out to be not quite that bad patients are grateful and think you are a good doctor. If you gloss over the possible side effects and then they are miserable they hate you and want to sue. Chemo is never a good thing but they are doing a lot with drugs to mitigate side effects these days and listing every possible bad thing does NOT mean that you are going to have it. It is just done to keep the lawyers happy. Only in this case they were definitely not making one very special lawyer at all happy. Regarding wedding dresses-think Princess Catherine and her stunning dress. I strongly suspect that the trend for strapless wedding dresses began to fade the moment she walked down the aisle. It had been around for about as long as any fashion trend lasts anyway and someday when brides from this era are looking back at their wedding pictures it will dawn on them that all strapless dresses photograph pretty much the same. Unless you want a 12 foot train all of the dresses look alike. From a design standpoint you can get so much more variety if you have necklines and sleeves to work with. What is good enough for Princess Catherine will be good enough for Princess Abby and you will be just as beautiful!

  6. Abby,

    You just amaze me every time I read your blogs. You are doing so well and I’m so proud of you. Thank you for being so honest and open with your story. I agree with Susan about dress styles and to tell you the truth…you would look gorgeous in a gunny sack so go for whatever helps you the most. I still can’t read your blogs without shedding some tears, but you are the strong one and I’m so proud of you. Still praying for you and your family.

  7. Abby,
    You are right on! I am sad you are experiencing similar feelings as I have. But so glad you are also seeing the blessings–strength, appreciation of here and now. Believe me, there are some good things you can do for those physical scars. I had a horrible one on my neck, and tons of vitamin E and you can’t even tell part of my flesh was pulled off my neck. Love you very much and see you soon! Aunt Sandy

  8. I appreciate very much your wonderful writing skills Abby. The last two sentences are so simple and greatly felt. Good thoughts at this time.

  9. Abby, You are sooooo precious to all of us and I pray thay God will flood you with tons of blessings this week. You are a beautiful person. Lots of Hugs…..

  10. Hi Abby. You don’t know me. I am a friend of your father. I live half a world away from you – literally – in Australia. I was reticent to read your blogs when Ted gave me the link, because I thought I might be somehow intruding onto your life by reading your thoughts when you are at your most vulnerable and open. And, if I am honest, I was also not sure I would be able to remain open to the pain, uncertainty and other feelings I imagined would be expressed.
    I hope writing the blog is therapeutic for you. It certainly has been for me. I have been touched by your eloquence, your openness, and the insight you have given me into dealing with what life can throw at you. You certainly touched me with your thoughts about the preciousness of each moment, and about how many of them we miss because our minds are elsewhere.
    Thank you for sharing yourself with friends and family, and even strangers half way around the world. Will be thinking of you and praying for you.

  11. Hi Abby…I have been reading each of your blogs, and each time I am amazed at the feelings and familiarity that each women, young or old, has in her experience coping with breast cancer. I just wanted to encourage you by saying that many of us have made it through all these stages, and most of us, I hope myself included, are better than the pre-cancer versions of ourselves. I found that taking ONE day at a time helped me feel less anxious and better to cope. Also, tell your surgeon that you want a plastic surgeons closure on your port. He will get the picture. Most of the time, the port scars are barely visible, unless you are a person that develops scarring, known as keloids. I am glad to hear you are healing well from your mastectomies! That is one big thing you can cross of your list! Just think of that port as your means to kick some cancer butt! I am sure you have heard the quote “don’t sweat the small stuff”? This port is just a little battle in your war with cancer. Go after it with the biggest fighting attitude, and the best port you can get!!

  12. Thanks for blessing us with your honesty and insight. You are loved and cared about. And He has written you on the palms of his hands.

  13. Battle scars mean you have fought a war. As any veteran can tell you, they would rather have not fought at all. But, when faced with the choice to live or die, life usually wins out. Make the choices you can live with because, after all, you DO live, so try and do it your way as much as you can. Love you.

  14. Abby, I totally get your not wanting a reminder of this time in your life on your wedding day. All those things about scars and heroes are true, but having a port scar is like a slash on your throat from an unwelcome intruder, a reminder that something terrible happened to you without your consent. I am so sorry you have to make this hard decision at a time when you are being bombarded with so much information, change, and uncertainty. Having said that, I agree that you would be beautiful in any gown! Here’s to bright futures, happy places, and warm cozy fires with hot cocoa and whip cream.
    Hugs,
    Chris

  15. Abby, I am Judi Hewes cousin, and that is how I “met” you. I have never had cancer, but I am the spouse of someone who has. I appreciate so much your openness, honesty, courage and purposeful willingness to grow, to learn, to share, and to fight with elegance. I can tell that you are a beautiful person both inside and out. As you said so well, you never see life the same after this. We are faced headon with the fact that bad things do happen to good people, and for no apparent reason. But, we are also given a clarity of perspective as to what truly matters, and to the unmeasureable worth of every moment and every blessing. I have shared your site with a friend of mine who is now going through cancer treatments also. Thank you. I hope that when you get married, you will tag Judi, and tell her to tag me, so I can see how beautiful you look. Whoever you marry will be so blessed. Beth

  16. Abby,

    As Abeline (sp?) said in The Help, “you is smart, you is pretty, you is kind.” and I would add that you are also very wise and you are working through all of this carefully and bravely and transparently in your blog. Some of these decisions should not be made right after you’re told about things, especially when they come as a shock/surprise. I’m learning to sleep on decisions a night or two, and then you will know what to do.

    As hard as it is for all of us to take things a day at a time, to live in the present, you so eloquently wrote about how you’re learning to do so because you’ve been forced to slow way down by the cancer. That is a blessing in the midst of this turmoil. You have lots of people praying for you daily.

    Becky

  17. Abby, you are beyond brave- truly an inspiration to me every day. you’ re such a gifted and entertaining writer…keep blogging and stay strong. Even though I only met you once over h & h bagels in arkansas, I could immediately tell why dorian was so taken by you. I know that your thirst for life will get you through this! Thinking of you, lauren

    • Abby,

      I’m a friend of Jenn McRobbie’s, and a fellow survivor (thyroid cancer). Thank you for this great blog, and for your frank and honest descriptions of what you’re going through–I hope you know how helpful these posts are to people who are fighting their own fights.

      You have lots of people here with port experience to offer their advice, but let me say, as someone with a scar in a very noticeable spot (across my neck): I was so insecure about it at the beginning, but over time, I’ve come to see it as a badge of courage. And I treasure my most favorite t-shirt, which says, “scars are tattoos with better stories.” and what stories we have to tell!

      Keep fighting. We’ll keep reading, and standing behind you, from all over the country (& the world).

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