Seven days after my surgeon removed half of my pancreas, a golf ball-sized tumor, and my spleen I touched my belly for the first time. I was unable to feel the skin below the four-inch scar down to my bellybutton, and I was told that numbness would probably always exist. Nerves were most likely damaged irreparably from the incision. At the time I was disturbed by the lack of sensation, but I’ve grown used to it. That surgery gave me back my health, so if the only downside was that I couldn’t feel part of my belly, I’d live with it.
As it turns out there have been a number of other repercussions from my scar — mostly negative, but at least one positive.
On a superficial level, the scar developed a keloid. (Is that grammatically correct? It developed a keloid, as if a keloid is a noun? I’m going with it.) All four inches, which diagonally cross the front of my torso below my left ribs became hardened, raised, red, and itchy. My dermatologist performed a series of corticosteroid injections into the scar to fix the problem. Each shot produced searing pain which caused me to comment: “You know, my pancreas surgery had nothing on the pain from these shots.” I endured something like 30 injections total. Inexplicably painful.
After the keloid went down (I still have one red raised bump, BTW) I saw my surgeon for a follow-up visit, and he observed that the scar didn’t heal properly at all. Rather than a nice thin line which he hoped to give me by gluing the incision back together, my scar is wide and kind of wrinkly. Not pretty. Dr. F. said I should have a surgical procedure done where they cut out the old scar so a new one could form. Not gonna do that!
While my scar was keloiding, unkeloiding, and widening (See how I used keloid as a verb now? Is that grammatically correct?), I was trying to get my abdominal muscles to activate once again. I’m still working on that. My left abs continue to act as if I had a stroke four and a half years ago. I have to will them to work, and they can only do so much. My brilliant trainer James continues to give me exercises multiple times a week to wake them up — it’s working little by little.
Part of the challenge of reactivating the muscles is that I have adhesions inside my abdomen from the scar. Threads of stiff tissues have worked their way through my muscles inside my belly. My friend, massage therapist, chiropractor, healer, and, if I’m being completely honest, torturer Dr. Ginger Lowe works to loosen up the adhesions through deep deep deep tissue massage. Until she started digging in I had tremendous difficulty climbing hills on my bike, but she found adhesions holding my diaphragm back. After a session or two I felt like I could finally breathe — my lungs were able to expand fully for the first time in years. Until that experience I had no idea that my scar could have such hold on my health.
Beyond the breathing difficulty, I’ve had back pain for a few years now, which stems from my muscle weakness as well as the scar adhesions. My orthopedist explained that I have what’s called “QL Syndrome.” The quadratus lumborum is a large muscle that runs from the top of your hip up to your middle back on both sides, and you use it for everything — sitting, standing, walking, lifting, you name it. Because you use it constantly, it’s one of the most difficult muscles to treat once it becomes inflamed. It never gets a chance to rest; thus the term “syndrome.” James, Ginger, and I hope that by releasing the scar adhesions, and by strengthening my abdominal muscles, my QL muscle will finally be able to calm down. Until then I can at least know that my back pain is merely an annoyance rather than anything to worry about.
Returning to the superficial, next week I’m going to get my scar lasered. My doc tells me that it might take three to five sessions to get it looking good. Some people (crazy people she said) might even ask for ten treatments, but she said that she or I would be happy with up to five. She said I might even be happy with just one treatment. It alone will make the skin look less wrinkly, thin out the scar, and take down that one red bump I have left.
I think I might actually be fine with only one treatment. You see, I like my scar. I was sick for nine miserable years, and the surgery gave me back my life. When I see my scar I am reminded of the second chance I’ve received, and I’m proud of myself for persevering during that horrible decade of pain, nausea, vomiting, hives, hypoglycemia, and weakness.
Six months after my surgery when I was getting used to my new superhuman strength, Tommie and I participated in an Amazing Race-style scavenger hunt in DC. One of our challenges was to perform a handstand under a building named after a president. Tommie had never done a handstand before, but I had as a kid, and so I said I would try. He went to spot my legs but within seconds I was balancing on my hands under the Ronald Reagan Building. You can see a picture of it above. If you look closely, you’ll notice the four-inch scar tattooed across my belly.
I love that picture because it tells my story. I went through hell and back and came out stronger than before, and I have the battle scar to prove it. I’m ready to pretty it up a bit with the laser, but I plan on letting my scar stay with me for the rest of my journey. Here’s hoping it lives a long life all alone without any further surgical scars to keep it company!