(These events occurred after my second surgery for papillary thyroid carcinoma in April 2009.)
A few weeks before my surgery, my 13-year-old son, Jon, was a little more excited about the upcoming event than me.
He enthusiastically commented, "Yea, cool, mom, so are you nervous? Like they're going to go in there and slash you open and look for the cancer!"
I bit my tongue, for about five seconds, then calmly informed Jon that I was his mom, I loved him and I didn't take offense, but warned him against speaking that way to any other cancer/surgery patients. I'm not sure if he got it or not.
My husband, Scott, was a little more dramatic when I first removed the cool white foam neck guard and dared look at the 6 1/2 inch scar, that extended more than half way around my neck and up to my right ear.
"Wow, you look like you got ripped open with a chain-saw!"
He did have a clever solution later, when we discussed the near-certain probability of future surgeries. "Hey, they should have just put in a zipper, so instead of another surgery, we could just zip it open, take out the cancer and zip it back shut."
Why didn't my doctor think of that?
Another comment came on Sunday morning during coffee break at church. My always-laughing friend, Betty, admired my scar and said, "They really sliced you open this time!"
It really was fair game. When she came to church with a band-aid on her nose covering the spot where they removed skin cancer I glibly asked her if she cut herself shaving.
I guess we're even.
"You know what it looks like Mom? Let me show you!"
She dug around in the scissors drawer until she came back with this pair and held them up triumphantly. She asked me if the doctor used scissors to open up my neck. We must not have satisfied her curiosity, because a few days later she questioned us further.
"Did they use a plastic knife or a sharp knife?
I needed clarification. "Do you mean when they cut me open for surgery?"
Daddy decided to add his expert commentary. "They used a sharp knife."
Beka, "Oh, a sharp plastic knife?"
Mom, "No, a sharp metal knife. It is called a scalpel. It's sharp so it doesn't hurt. They use it once and throw it away."
I have been thankful that we have been able to communicate about something that is horrible and scary - cancer. Teasing and joking are acceptable methods of dealing with stress, and I am thankful my kids and husband felt comfortable enough to tease me. That is normal for us. Normal feels good.
The scar doesn't bother me. I don't cover it with a scarf, I don't cover it with makeup. Maybe because I'm happily marrried and my husband doesn't care. Maybe because I am getting wrinkled and gray and one more flaw can't make that much of a difference. It also helps that at 5 foot 2 inches, I am shorter than most people and they are looking down on me and don't really see my neck.
I also look at my scar as a symbol of overcoming. The Lord has been my strength and my song, and many prayers have padded the rocky road with peace and comfort. A nurse told me to wear it proudly, because I was alive.
I loved the saying on this framed text in an antique store - not enough to buy it, just enough to photograph it.
By the way, I consider this photo spiritual foreshadowing. I saw this two weeks before I found out my cancer had returned. The Lord was preparing my heart.