It’s been close to a month since my surgery and I am just starting to deal and cope with the reality of my changed body.
It all started a few days ago. Inexplicably, I began to have feelings of anxiety and doubt about myself. They were general and non-specific and I in no way associated the feeling with my appearance. I was grouchy, uninterested in verbal or physical intimacy, and withdrawn.
Two nights ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Carey was lying next to me, sleeping soundly, and I was wide awake. The elephant was sitting on my chest; my personal anxiety signal. I got out of bed and went into the bathroom for a sleep aid. When I got in there, I realized I was not looking at myself in the mirror. Intentionally. I would look away when I slid open the medicine cabinet. I would look down at the sink when washing my hands. I didn’t want to look at myself! At my face in particular.
I’m a smart guy. I hadn’t done any research on it, but I knew immediately that I was having an issue with the way I looked. It was 1:00am, but I sat down at my computer and started doing a little research. Apparently, body image issues after head and neck cancer surgery is not all that uncommon.
Think about it. I have a 10-inch scar going across my neck. My neck is disfigured because of the muscle the surgeon was forced to remove. I look different. It’s not a disfigurement I can readily hide. My face/head/neck is one of the most noticeable parts of my body. People talk to my face. We are trained from birth to notice and recognize faces. We, in large part, associate our very identity woth our faces.
It’s no wonder I’m having an issue. My disfigurement is extremely minor. In my research I read about some truly sad cases where head and neck cancer survivors lost facial mobility, lips, parts of the face, etc. I have nothing to complain about; I am very fortunate that I just have a small part of my neck missing. To me it’s a glaringly obvious disfigurement but others don’t really see it as plainly as I do. Really, I look more “chiseled” on one side than the other. And it’s covered with my long hair. The only visible sign that I can’t readily hide is my scar – and I REALLY like the scar.
Still, I AM changed. And I have to deal with it. Now that I have recognized what has been bothering me, I feel a lot better. I am a cancer survivor. I have battle scars. They are nothing to be ashamed of – I just need to learn to look in the mirror again and like who I see.
Carey has been amazing. I have made it my personal mission to hold back nothing from her. Many people would try to deal with this privately I think – but in my case that would be the wrong thing to do. I would let it fester and become something ugly inside me. So I shared my issue with Carey in nauseating detail.
She didn’t flinch, trivialize my issue, or turn away. She embraced me and accepted it completely. It’s no wonder I love her so much. It really helps, people, to have that kind of support.
I may not like who I see in the mirror today, but because of my determination and the love of my family and support group I know that the day where I accept the new me is not far off.