East of Eli

Scars ‘n’ Stripes Forever

Illustration by Agustina Aguilar
Illustration by Agustina Aguilar

I wrote this article in response to reading Chyler Leigh’s Your Stripes Are Beautiful piece. Her words inspired me to put down on paper the feelings in both my heart and mind I’ve had about my body over the years.

“How can you wear a bikini? I’d have thought you’d want to keep them covered up. I know I would!”

The woman indicates the scars on my torso.

I didn’t answer her; instead I just shrugged and walked down across the beach to the shoreline where the rest of my family were playing in the sea.

It wasn’t until later that evening, when I’d had time to think about what she had said that her comments shocked me a little. It wasn’t the first time that someone had commented on my scars, but it was the first time anyone had been so blunt about it.

I acquired my first three scars in February 1991 when I was just 9. Two of them (both about 20cm long across my abdomen and my left side) are from the removal of a cancerous tumour that had attached itself to my spine. The third one was smaller and was from having a chest tube shoved in my side after a pneumothorax (collapsed lung).

In the years that followed more scars appeared; more surgeries, more lumps removed. Now I have a collection of almost 20 in various places around my body!

And I’m proud of them. I love them. They are me.

And each one tells a story.

A story of confused and scared parents watching as their daughter fights for her life.

Of the thousands of hours training spent in medical school by each doctor working to save my life.

Of the years of medical research and discovery that enabled surgeons to remove my inflamed appendix using keyhole surgery and reducing scar sizes.

Of an anxious but caring wife holding my hand and looking after me after countless surgeries to remove lumps from my breasts.

And most importantly a story that says “I lived!”, “I fought and I lived!”

A year after my surgery to have that dreadful tumour removed my parents threw me a birthday party, or rather they threw my scars (now named Pinky, Perky and Pip) a 1st birthday party. As I grew older my parents taught me to be proud of my scarred body. Not to hide it because it was different, but to accept the scars as part of me.

I’ve even managed to acquire a few scars without even having surgery. One, which I lovingly call my ‘Harry Potter Scar’, is a rather familiar lightning bolt down my forehead that I got from walking into the door of a bathroom stall at work one day. Another, and possibly my favourite is the scarring left by a small burn on my right hand. The reason it’s my favourite? I did it the same night my first nephew was born. I was trying to make cheese on toast while I waited for the call from my brother to announce Ben’s birth!

So yes, I will wear a bikini and show (most of them) off proudly, no I won’t hide them away, because I do love them, each and every one. They remind me that I have a story. Most importantly, they remind me that I live!

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