I grew up in Sun Diego, where sun pours out of the sky by the truckload and nature surrounds us with tons of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. I'm also a lifelong book lover and hiker. I've hiked just about every day hike available at Mount Rainier National Park over the last 50 years or so (I’m way too young to be that old.) I write, read, and manage a hiking blog. You get the picture. I love the outdoors and have spent a lot of time in the sun. It took its toll.
In 2013 I went to the doctor to check an odd patch of skin on the tip of my nose. My dermatologist did a biopsy. I was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer called Micronodular Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC).
MOHS micrographic surgery, a cutting-edge technique with an excellent success rate, was scheduled. I couldn't help wondering how I'd look post-op. The success rate for MOHS surgery is 90%, so the odds were in my favor. But we’re not talking about an incision and scars on a shoulder, an arm, or my back. We were talking about surgery on the tip of my nose. The first thing you see. My face.
It took two surgeries, one right after the other, for the path screen to come back clear. This meant they got all the cancer cells! Post-surgery, the nurse asked if I wanted to see my face. I still have no idea why I said "Yes." But I did. She handed me a mirror.
With 50 sutures from my eyebrow to the tip of my nose, I looked like something out of Frankenstein. The swelling and bruising hadn’t even kicked in yet. But the next words out of the surgeon's mouth weren't exactly comforting:
“You'll probably never want to be photographed up close.”
Apparently the doc was absent the day they taught "bed side manner" in med school. Anyway, she also said it would take about a year for my wound to heal completely, and that although the redness and scarring would fade with time, they would never go away completely.
"Great," I thought. "How am I going to walk around looking like this?” Post-surgery and recovery, I became very self-conscious about my nose. I felt like people were staring at my nose and scars, instead of seeing me for who I am. Emotionally, it took a toll. But with the kindness and support of my husband, kids, and my good dog, Kimber, I was eventually able to embrace my new me. I am flawed, but I accept who I am.
“If God had a fridge, he would have a magnet with my face on it.”
My faith in God's infinite goodness and grace also helped me through this challenging time. I was and am often reminded that although I walk through the valley, I need fear no evil thing, because He is with me and He comforts me. Author Max Lucado put it like this: "If God had a fridge, he would have a magnet with my face on it."
Beauty comes in many shapes and sizes
One day I made a decision that I was not going to allow my scars to define me. My exterior and my face are only one part of who I am. I decided that true beauty grows with age because it’s internal, not external. I believe you become more beautiful as internal qualities become more seasoned and are put into practice. I also decided that I wasn’t going to hide indoors when the Great Outdoors, the trails and more adventures were calling.
For example, about a year ago I came home from a routine physical. I felt great at 59 years bold. "You're really healthy," the doc confirmed. "Keep up the good work."
My son and I went outside to take some photos. "Hey Mom," Josiah said. "What are you going to do with all these pictures?"
"I don't know," I shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it."
"You oughta open an Instagram account so you can post this stuff. Also all the photos you take when you're hiking."
“I’m too old for that”
I was like, "Are you kidding me? Instagram??!! That millennials thing? I'm gonna be 60 next year. I'm too old for that."
"I DARE you to open an Instagram account" Josiah persisted. "I double dare you!"
Well. Who can resist that?
And that's how my Instagram account, Thymelesswon, was born. (Hi, doc!)
My First Photo
A close up shot of my face. I was going to deal with this head on. Literally!
Author's Note: In the interview, Kristine said to me, "It is okay to have scars." I had goose bumps. Yes, it is! "You are Kintsugi. Your scars are gold," I replied.
Kristine went on to say to me, "Life is made by scars. What you do with these scars is what matters."
"Yes! Yes!" Kintsugi, Kintsugi was all I was thinking.
I refuse to let "cancer survivor" define me. Or slow me down. For instance, books and reading have always been a huge part of my life.
In 2018 I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal at 250 books in one year. Everyone said, either directly or indirectly, that I couldn't do it.
My internal response? Watch me. Frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of “aim lower.” There’s nothing that motivates me more than having someone insist I can’t do something. That just revs me up to knuckle under. Dig deeper. Go farther, faster. Throttle up. So I quietly revised my reading goal for 2018 to 365 books in one year.
I not only cleared that benchmark, I exceeded it, reading 383 books in one year. The jet fuel that propelled me across the reading finish line? The dubious looks and raised eyebrows from those who implied or otherwise indicated I couldn’t do it. Kind of like what my surgeon said about being photographed up close.
Final Analysis - Joy is a Choice
I've learned a lot on this journey and I continue to learn. Like joy is a choice! We can’t always control our circumstances. But we can choose how we react to them. It’s part of our story.
You have a story to tell. The world needs to hear it. Why? Because you're one of a kind. No one else sees the world quite like you do. By sharing our stories, we can learn and grow together. It takes openness, vulnerability and risk. But have you noticed? Rewards almost never come without risk. Besides, your story may be exactly what someone else needs to hear. Your story may encourage them on their own journey and help them choose joy along the way, scars and all.
That’s why I’m sharing mine.
On a practical note: Do not leave the house without sunscreen. You only have one skin. Be sure to protect it, rain and shine.
You can read and learn more about Kristine here:
Zuzu's Petals: Blooming in Midlife: https://zuzuspetals.home.blog/
Hiker Babe: https://www.hikerbabe.org/
Kristine Lowder, Writer
Great job! Thank you!
May 27, 2019
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