The Invisible Scars


I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror this morning and was taken a-back by how well the surgical scars are healing. My plastic surgeon was really quite masterful and it’s only now I’m starting to see this. The physical scars from chemotherapy and tamoxifen make themselves known most days, but they’re bearable; healing is a slow process but improving all the time. What surprised me most today are the deep invisible scars, involving my psyche and mental state. I’ve been having pain at the back of my knee for many weeks now, which started around the time of my last long-haul flight. Being on tamoxifen, with its slightly increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), I thought I’d better get around to ruling out that the pain was not due to a DVT. I wasn’t worried at all that it was something oncologically sinister, but the couple of risk factors for DVT did make me a bit uneasy. So off I went today for a Doppler ultrasound on my leg. I feel like the many, many months of practicing mindfulness and mental control over my body went completely out the window today – my reaction to lying in the darkened room as the ultrasound machine was turned on and the probe placed on my leg can really only be described as fleeting panic, or perhaps more likely, that much-coined term “Scanxiety”. My pulse started racing and the feeling of terror tried to engulf me; the rational side of my brain told me I was being ridiculous, but the deep-seated memories of the traumatic scans of nearly two years ago were overwhelming. And then I heard the sound of the Doppler, the shwoosh, shwoosh, shwoosh sound of blood pumping around my body, instantly transporting me back to those joyful ultrasounds of watching the in-utero antics of my babies before they were born. I immediately clutched onto those memories, got my breathing under control and eventually emerged from the wave of fear. How powerful past memories and experiences are in shaping our mental and physiological responses in the present. It was a reminder that I need to keep working on my mental state as part of the healing process. I should not be surprised by this; the psychological scars from the serious laboratory chemical accident I was involved in the USA in 1999, and the trauma I experienced after being attacked and punched in the head by a school parent in a road-rage incident in 2003, are scars that never quite go away. If there’s an unknown chemical smell at work, I panic and have to leave the floor immediately – not a very good way for a supervisor to respond, but I always freely admit this when discussions of zone wardens arise! That’s not a job I can do. Likewise, if another car tries to take the car park that I’m about to move into, my pulse races and I just let them have it – it’s not worth having my head punched in over! I guess we all carry around past experiences that can override mental rationality; the trick is to put into practice techniques and tools so that those moments don’t rule our lives or send our body into a stress-response. Clinging to the happy memories of my antenatal ultrasounds quickly brought me from the darkness of cancer scans to a rational and calm state. Fortunately I have a lifetime of happy places to go when next the fear tries to take me. The source of the pain in my leg turns out to be a small cyst behind my knee, so I can rest easy that it’s nothing as dangerous and complicated as a DVT. I am also quite relieved that there’ll be no more scans and hospital in the immediate future. Hopefully next time a scan is required I can find a way to be better prepared to deal with the psychological response. It’s a work in progress.


About stemgir1

Scientist, mother, survivor of childhood cancer, diagnosed in 2013 with breast cancer. Lover of life.
This entry was posted in achievement, breast cancer, cancer, chemotherapy, life, surgery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Invisible Scars

  1. kboys3 says:

    Ahh, beautifully written! So happy that you have good places to go when your mind tries to go into the dark ones. It takes such a conscious effort to put ourselves in the ‘good’ place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce says:

    Beautifully articulated Ngaire…you have been through such a lot, expressing and sharing your fears & thoughts in writing is a gift and an inspiration. I hope & pray the “little cyst” is easily got rid of.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. shaudae says:

    You are a beautiful soul! You will get through this and inspire others.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. champvimal says:

    Bearing the current “cyst” pain, overcoming memories of “past” pain and finally inspiring yourself and others to know that healing the pain yourself is the best way to lead and win in life… Great post indeed!


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