The other morning I was checking in at the gym when Anne, the woman at the desk shook me from my routine.
"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
I knew exactly what she was going to ask because I could see her eyes on my neck.
This question used to be a reason for me to feel anxious and afraid. Just a few short years ago I might have inwardly bridled at this impending question - wondering whether curiosity was from a place of unease at the appearance of the long curving line of discolored skin carving a u shaped path from one ear to the other. Wondering whether those eyes thought me a freak.
The fear for this question is gone.
I've learned to recognize a pleading look in eyes of a select group who ask this question. These are the queries of those, not pointing out a way that I am different, but seeing someone with something and desperately wanting to ask the stranger that question, breaking through the awkwardness to do so.
"Thyroid cancer?" she asked.
I nodded. She looked relieved.
We talked a little and shared a bit about this butterfly shaped gland we were now both missing. We both agreed it had shaped the course of our lives...how the lack of awareness about it left us in dire straits.
My lack of diagnosis may have cost me the carefree high school and college years I should have had, while I suffered with very real symptoms that never were correctly pinpointed. Her lack of immediate care and surgery led to a serious condition called a thyroid storm, leaving her in intensive care and near death for weeks. She still suffers from various ailments- lasting parting gifts from a cancer she was told was the "good cancer".
I believe I've heard the same two-word description of the disease that turned my whole world upside down.
My neck tells a story. The scar is its opening chapter. It's a large and cumbersome wound that healed long ago but will always and forever be visible to the naked eye. It's too long and winding to have thought to measure.Unless I wear a turtleneck or a scarf the rest of my life I'm going to continue to have these moments. Moments where someone who feels seemingly alone reaches out and wonders aloud "you too?"
I used to be angry that I was left with such a visible reminder of my first cancer. There were times I wondered how I could ever look at my reflection and feel peace. My first solid dalliance with mortality is forever etched for others to see, but I think I'm finally okay with it. I know who I am...and who I am is not simply skin deep.
I wouldn't go so far as to say "I love my scar". I wouldn't say that suddenly it's become beautiful in my eyes, that would be a lie. But I will say that it tells a story, and I've lived that story. And now I am living differently because of it...I'm on a different path...and that I am okay with.
So, the scar is mine and it's a part of who I am now, the inside worn on the outside.
I was late to start my workout the other day. But my choosing to speak with this woman made a difference in her day. It was my choice to miss Zumba (I didn't tell her) to help her realize that someone else knew that she wasn't alone. My scar was the catalyst.