The altered body



By Caitlin Kelly

This week, a year ago, a female surgeon — wearing monkey socks she proudly showed me beforehand, sharing a laugh I needed — removed a small growth from my left breast.

Today it’s a thumb-length pale pink scar I see every day. Since the end of 20 days’ radiation treatment in November 2018, my skin there is now brown and freckled, unlikely to change. The skin is also still orange peel-ish in texture, odd and unpleasant to the touch or appearance.

The minuscule black dots on my back and stomach, used to guide the radiation machine, are still there as well.

And there’s nothing to be done but accept it.

Serious illness will knock any vanity out of you, no matter how we hope to remain forever pretty or thin or strong.

If we survive it, we’re forever altered, our bodies a map of our journey.

After a decade or two, our bodies bear witness: scars, wrinkles, a few persistent injuries that twinge us on a rainy day.

My two favorite scars are maybe half an inch in length, almost matching, one on the inside of either wrist — both the result of great adventures I thoroughly enjoyed at the time.

One, falling off a moped in northern Thailand, as I and my first husband rode to the Burmese border. The other, sustained by scraping against a metal cable while crewing aboard a Long Island yacht in a fall race.

I have three little scars on the top of each knee, like the top of a coconut, from meniscus repairs, also the result of a highly active life.

Friends who have faced multiple surgeries know this all too well.

Our bodies demand repair.

If we’re fortunate, we’re treated with skill and kindness and heal.

As long as my body is able to function freely — and thank heaven, for now it still is — I don’t care as much how it looks as what it can do.

Grateful to be here, scars and all.




8 thoughts on “The altered body

  1. and I’m so glad that you’re here to write about this. you are so right, we are the sum of all that’s come before. we can fight it, to no avail, or choose to accept it and move onward. you’ve clearly chosen the latter route and live your life fully.

  2. Kris Lindquist

    I’m a PA in a radiation oncology department. We recommend Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Lotion once or twice a day to get rid of the radiation skin changes. It will take a couple of months but it works. It’s an old, cheap remedy but sometimes those can be the best. Good luck to you!
    Kris Lindquist, PA-C

  3. Kris Lindquist

    Had another thought – after this amount of time, there could be an element of lymphedema which can occur in the breast, not just the arm. Fluid trapped in the skin and subcutaneous tissues causes that orange peel look and the skin will feel dense and leathery. If that’s the case, evaluation by a certified lymphedema therapist (usually the occupational or physical therapy department) can make all the difference in the world.
    Again, all my best,

    1. Thanks! That’s exactly it…My surgeon said therapy wouldn’t necessarily resolve it and that it just takes time, which it has. This is the best it’s been so far. The surgeon used that word at our visit in March. I see her again next week and hope to get the follow-up mammo that the swelling has made so far impossible.

      I really appreciate your expert advice and understanding. Only my husband and MD knew about it. It’s been difficult to look at or touch.

  4. Kate Maloy

    What a brave and moving story–and no one would know if you didn’t tell it. Thank you for telling it. I wonder if women’s scars are more often hidden than men’s. I have two on my lower belly–a horizontal one from an ectopic pregnancy and a vertical one from a bowel obstruction. Is it true that we are more stoic than men about our bodies? I suspect it is. We bleed every month during our fertile years. We bleed during childbirth. We grow whole new humans inside us and then push them out through a very small exit. I do think we’re braver than men, maybe because we have no choice about it. Men can choose combat or high-risk athletics or daredevil driving…but I wonder if it’s because they’re secretly trying to outdo us.

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