When one woman learned that she needed an open abdominal surgery to remove a melon-sized fibroid tumor from her uterus, she was devastated
When I learned that I needed an open abdominal surgery to remove a melon-sized fibroid tumor from my uterus, I was devastated. It wasn't the potential impact this might have on my fertility that distressed me. It was the scar.
The surgery to remove this benign, but huge, mass would be akin to having a C-section. As a single, 32-year-old woman, I lamented the fact that the next man to see me naked would not be one who'd vowed to love me in sickness and in health, or even a sweet boyfriend who'd read to me in bed while I recovered. I hated the thought of looking like I'd had a baby when what I'd actually had was a tumor.
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I had always taken great care to avoid injury, orchestrating a life that left my fair skin unmarred by any permanent desecration. Sure, I'd had minor scrapes and bruises in my life. Blemishes. Tan lines. But these unwelcome marks were temporary. I viewed the impending scar at my bikini line like a crack in fine bone china, an undesirable imperfection that would make me look and feel like damaged goods.
After a lifetime of hating my body, I'd only just started to feel comfortable in my own skin. In the last year, I'd lost 40 pounds, slowly transforming myself from XL to XS. When I looked in the mirror, I felt attractive and feminine for the first time in my life. Then, one night as I lay in bed, I felt the protrusion in my abdomen—a firm mass bulging from one hip bone to the other.
Upon my diagnosis, I worried about the invasiveness of the surgery and the long weeks of recovery ahead. I'd never been under the knife before and it terrified me to think of the surgeon's blade slicing me open and handling my internal organs. Under anesthesia, they would stick a tube down my throat and insert a catheter. It all seemed so barbaric and violating. The fact that this was a routine procedure, and one that would heal my body, was no comfort. I felt betrayed by my own uterus.
Amid all these worries, the scarring haunted me most of all. Thinking of future romantic encounters, I knew I'd feel compelled to explain the scar—and tumor talk is definitely not sexy. My ex-boyfriend, Brian, tried to console me; he assured me that this mark wouldn't make me any less attractive in the eyes of a future partner, who would surely love me for me—scars and all. I knew he was right. But even if this hypothetical boyfriend wouldn't care, I still did. Could I ever truly love my body again?
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In the weeks leading up to my surgery, I read Angelina Jolie-Pitt's op-ed in The New York Times, chronicling the recent removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. It was a follow-up to the piece she famously wrote about her choice to undergo a preventive double mastectomy—all surgeries with more serious outcomes than my own. She wrote that it wasn't easy, "But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue," adding that situations like this were a part of life and "nothing to be feared." Her words were a salve to quiet my fears and uncertainty. By graceful example, she taught me what it means to be a strong woman; a woman with scars.
I still needed to mourn the loss of my body as I knew it. It felt important to be able to compare the before and after. My roommate offered to take the photographs, in which I would be fully naked. "You have a really nice body,” she said as I let my white terrycloth bathrobe drop to the floor. She didn't scrutinize my figure or focus her attention on my flaws. Why couldn't I see my body the way she did?
Upon waking from surgery, the first thing I asked was about the tumor's exact size. Just like babies in utero, tumors are often compared to fruits and vegetables to provide an easy frame of reference. A honeydew melon is about 16 centimeters in length. My tumor was 17. My mother thought I was kidding when I insisted that she walk to the nearest grocery store to buy a honeydew so I could take a photo of myself cradling it like a newborn from my hospital bed. I needed support and I wanted to ask for it in a lighthearted way by posting a faux birth announcement on Facebook.
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Six weeks post-op, I was cleared to resume most normal activities, including sex. At a birthday party for a friend's pitbull, Celeste, I spent all night chatting with a friend of a friend who was just in town for the weekend. He was easy to talk to and a good listener. We spoke about writing, relationships, and travel. I told him about my surgery. He kissed me in the kitchen as the party was winding down, and when he asked if I wanted to go somewhere, I said yes.
When we arrived at his slick boutique hotel in Beverly Hills, I told him I wanted to shower and stepped into the large, white bathroom. Closing the door behind me, I took a deep breath. I watched my reflection in the mirror as I undressed. Naked, except for the tan Scar Away bandage covering my abdomen, I took another deep breath and peeled the silicone strip away from my body, exposing the thin, pink line. I stood there looking at the body reflected back at me, at my swollen abdomen and the scar that I had been monitoring daily for signs of improvement. I stared into my own eyes, seeking reassurance. You're stronger than you look.
"We need to take it slow,” I told him. I didn't know how I would feel or how much my body could handle. He was respectful and kept checking in with me to see if I was okay, and I was. "You have a great body,” he said. "Really?” I asked. I wanted to protest—but the scar, the swelling. He cut me off before I could argue and I let the compliment land on my skin, on my abdomen, and hips. "Your scar is cool,” he said. He didn't say, "It's not that bad,” or, "It'll fade,” or "It doesn't matter.” He said it was cool. He didn't treat me like I was broken. He treated me like a person, an attractive person—inside and out.
I'd spent so much time worrying about being vulnerable with someone new, but the experience was empowering. It was liberating, letting go of the idea that I needed to look a certain way in order to be seen.
The next time I stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror, I felt different. I noticed I was smiling. The scar would continue to heal, and so would I—but I didn't hate it anymore. It no longer seemed like a flaw, but a battle scar, a proud reminder of my strength and resilience. I'd been through something traumatic and survived. I'd been so focused on the hurt that I hadn't been able to recognize and appreciate my body's amazing capacity to heal.