I grew up ignoring my porcelain skin. I tricked myself into thinking I could tan like the rest of them. I lathered on baby oil at the beach, and frequented the tanning salon with my high school girlfriends. They got tan, while I got red. My mum yelled at me, and I thought nothing of it. Sound familiar?
Ever since I’ve known my husband (going back to 2001), I’ve had a small scar on my top lip. To be really gross, I always thought it was an acne scar, so I covered it up for 13 years. He never mentioned it, and it went unnoticed at my dermatologist check-ups.
After my daughter was born, the blemish randomly flaked a bit. My mum got on my case to get it checked out. But honestly, there was baby fat to lose and a C-section scar to heal; the tiny little blip that required a dollop of cover-up fell waaaaaaay behind the lofty beauty goals I had as a new mum. However, my mum had skin cancer when I was a child, so she didn’t give up. She nagged me the way only a mother could. Once I started to feel (somewhat) balanced as a mum, I went to see my childhood doctor.
And guess what? It wasn’t an acne scar — it was basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer.
The funny thing is that the diagnosis didn’t phase me, because even the doctor wasn’t phased. “Oh, it’s not deep, it’s not melanoma, it will be routine, you will be fine,” he said.
“Oh,” I thought to myself. “There’s such a thing as not-so-serious skin cancer?” I left his office almost annoyed that I had to squeeze this procedure into my schedule.
Not to instill the fear of God into you guys, but that little “scrape” turned into four rounds of meticulous microscopic surgery, called MOHS Surgery. A 10 cent piece-size chunk of skin between my nose and top lip was removed. It just so happened that in the years that I ignored it, a legion had grown beneath the skin, widening and deepening down to the muscle of my lip. I would lose the groove above my lip (known as a cupid’s bow), and I would need reconstructive surgery to try to recreate my top lip.
Worse, I couldn’t speak or be around my daughter for close to two weeks post-op since the docs feared she would accidentally pull at my delicately stitched and bandaged face. Later, my surgeon explained that I could have been deformed (or even lost my entire upper lip) if there had been complications during the healing process.
In the six months that it took me to heal, I struggled with the fact that I had to pay for my stupidity in the sun; I was reminded of my mistakes every time I looked into a mirror. Luckily, God graced me with doctors who I am grateful for every day. They worked their expertise beyond measure. While I no longer have that cupid’s bow, or a little heart in my lips, I can go through life without feeling self-conscious or defined by my scars.
Do you know what the strangest part of this whole thing is? I think being a new mum made it easier to go through this experience. When my daughter was first born, my C-section scar, my new-mum curves, and the way my belly button permanently pops out took some getting used to. I remember sighing to my mum, asking when I would get back to looking “like me.” She told me I’d get over it (her words, not mine), and I rolled my eyes at her. But as my daughter has gotten older, I’ve realised that my mum was right. These changes are the stripes I’ve earned (and I’d take them all a million times over, just to hear my daughter’s giggle). Sure, they may not constitute an “ideal” version of beauty, but they are shifts in my appearance that proudly define me in my role as “MUM”.
In a way, these new-mum realisations made it easier to deal with my skin cancer, and the resulting scars. Sure, I can no longer elegantly put on my lipstick in a mirror, or smile as broadly as I once did, but I came out of having skin cancer with a clean bill of health and a heightened awareness of what defines beauty. The unseemly stretch marks made it possible for me to carry my child. The C-section scar allowed me to safely deliver her. And this scar on my face allowed me to get healthy, so that I can watch her run, laugh and play. I’ll get to see her grow up. And hey, maybe one day when she puts on her own lipstick, she’ll think of me and not make the unsafe sun choices I made as a teen.
Life is a series of struggles and accomplishments — and I will take all the battle wounds in stride to be graced with a healthy child, healthy body, and a loving husband who thinks I’m beautiful, no matter what.
More about health:
- How Motherhood is Making My OCD Better
- After Years of Self-Loathing, I Finally Made Peace with My Body
- Anxious? How to Stop Worrying So Much (and Keep Your Kids From Being Worriers Too)
Images: Jacqueline Weppner