Thursday, October 8, 2015


I bet nearly everyone has a scar or two once they reach the age of 33. My two-year-old already has two on his chin. Poor kid will have patchy facial hair. Hopefully he doesn't want to be a bearded hipster or Santa Claus when he grows up. I certainly had more than a few scars before I got my Whipple. The Whipple procedure (that nasty surgery I had to remove my tumor) left me with 5 new physical scars on my abdomen. No biggie. I had a robotic Whipple, so 3 of my small incisions housed robot "arms" for 11 or so hours, and 2 of my scars are from drains put in place after surgery. All of my scars are less than an inch long. If you are interested in seeing a picture, click here. (That 6th scar in the middle is a remnant of my late adolescence, a scar from a navel ring.) I have no problems with showing off my battle scars, but I do not want to subject my abdomen to the reader who would rather leave it to his/her imagination. 

I should add that the surgeon had to remove the tumor from a much larger incision, so he re-opened my c-section scar and removed it from there. Also no biggie; it healed rather quickly. Now nearly 9 months later it is barely visible. 

So why am I writing about my scars if they are no big deal? To stress the point that even though I look okay and "normal," looks can be deceiving. My insides were sliced and diced and reconfigured. That took MONTHS to heal. I'm still healing. Some days I don't feel great physically, some days I don't feel great mentally. This could be said of anyone, especially those who suffer from an invisible chronic illness. 

Several weeks after my surgery I visited the dermatologist. He saw my incisions and wondered if I had had a my gall bladder removed, a fairly normal occurrence in my age group. When I said, "No, I had a Whipple," he was surprised to say the least. He asked plenty of follow-up questions, such as why, what's the prognosis, how am I feeling, etc. I've seen him twice since then and each time he asks relevant questions about my healing and "new" (but not improved) digestive system. He's familiar with the surgery and has a family member who had a Whipple for bowel cancer about 10 years ago. He knows what a big deal this surgery is; he knows there are lasting effects. 

My small scars are the only evidence to the world that I had a pancreatic tumor, and even the scars suggest I had routine gall bladder surgery. People in my life often inquire about my health and I most often respond in a positive manner, because I feel pretty darn good considering. However, the question: "So you're totally fine then?" or some variation often follows. How do I answer this question? The questioner wants to hear that of course, yes, I'm totally fine, back to normal, etc. Or they say, "Good thing that's behind you" or the like. I'm not totally fine. The surgical procedure is behind me, but I'm still recovering and there are physical effects I will likely endure for the rest of my life. I'm not complaining, I am so thrilled to be alive and feeling as good as I do the vast majority of the time. My physical scars may be fading (thanks, Mederma!), but I have been altered. The surgery and diagnosis will never be totally behind me. I will never again have a gall bladder and will always be down half a pancreas. I will always know that my sort of cancer could come back, though it probably won't. Every time I get a follow-up scan I will get that "what if" feeling in the pit of my stomach. Odds were in my favor that I didn't have a pancreatic tumor in the first place, but I most certainly did. These are the scars that you can't see. They too are fading, slowly, but they will never disappear. I will always be thankful for good health and empathetic to those whose health suffers. When you ask me how I'm feeling, I will almost certainly say "pretty good," because that's the truth. For 33 years I accrued scars whose origins were not memorable (besides that belly button ring!), but on January 20, 2015, I received more than a few very memorable new scars. I wear them proudly, knowing it could have been so much worse. We all have visible and invisible scars; I know that so thoroughly now. They remind us of where we've been an how far we've come. They remind me that I'm alive. I'll take it. 

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