50: Making a Mark

50: Making a Mark

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Making a Mark

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

~M. Kathleen Casey

I was consumed with happy thoughts about my sister Theresa and her upcoming wedding. It was only three months away. She asked me to be her maid of honor and I was thrilled. She chose a soft lavender gown with a white organza overlay for me to wear. I looked lovely in it. When I tried it on, my long brown hair cascaded over the shoulders and hid the pretty ruffled neckline.

“Hold your hair up,” Theresa said. “Pretend you are wearing your hair in an up-do.” She twisted my hair into a braid and held it high. “You look like a princess.”

Our mom walked in the bedroom and saw us. “You look stunning,” she said. She stood there for a moment taking it all in. Then, her smile faded and a look of concern washed over her face. “What is that on your neck?”

I looked in the mirror that hung over Theresa’s dresser. “I don’t see anything. What are you talking about?” I kinked my head to one side, then the other.

“This,” she clamored, pointing to a huge, round lump in the front of my neck at the base of my throat. “What is this right here?”

I ran my fingers over it. “I never noticed that,” I said. “It doesn’t hurt.” I swallowed hard and watched to see if it moved.

Mom walked straight to the kitchen, picked up the phone that hung on the wall, and dialed the doctor’s number. I stood beside her listening to everything she said. I knew whatever I had was not normal. I wondered if I needed surgery. My mind ran wild with thoughts of not being able to stand up for my sister’s wedding and I began to cry. Theresa hugged me tightly and reassured me that it would all be fine. But I was worried sick that nothing about my throat would be fine.

That summer was filled with doctor’s appointments, blood tests and ultrasounds. I had X-rays and nuclear medicine scans. I was poked and prodded. In the end, the doctor announced that I needed an operation to remove that lump. I could only think about being a bridesmaid in August and that beautiful lavender gown that I wanted to wear so much. How good would I look at Theresa’s ceremony with an enormous Frankenstein-like scar across my throat? I envisioned the worst and was angry that something so terrible was happening to me.

I was only twelve and about to start high school. I couldn’t go to class with a scar across my throat. What would my classmates think if they saw something so gross and disfiguring? I knew I couldn’t wear turtlenecks because the weather would still be too warm. How could I hide a hideous scar? I imagined no one would want to be my friend and I couldn’t bear it. I sobbed hysterically every time I thought about it and my parents were concerned.

The doctor gave me a choice. I could postpone the operation until August and be a bridesmaid without a scar, but that meant I would have to walk down the halls of my high school with a fresh surgical wound on my neck. Having the surgery immediately meant I would have a nasty red scar in all of Theresa’s wedding photographs. But, I would be able to start high school with a wound that had time to heal.

After struggling with the dilemma, we reached a tolerable compromise. I would have surgery the day after Theresa’s wedding. The doctor reassured me that there was enough recuperation time before school began in September and it wouldn’t be as bad as I thought.

Every morning that summer when I woke up I would run my fingers over that lump to see if it was still there. I examined it in the mirror to see if it had shrunk during the night. But it never changed. Theresa kept me occupied with bridal showers and other wedding plans. There was so much to do and it was a lot of fun pulling it all together. When the big day finally arrived, I looked and felt like a princess and never thought about the lump.

The surgery and recovery period was very traumatic for me, probably because I was so young. I remember feeling afraid going to school with a big white bandage across my throat, but no one seemed to care. I made friends and adjusted. I was so worried about a silly scar when I should have been concerned about having cancer or losing my voice. That experience made me decide to devote my life to working as an X-ray technician.

I did become an X-ray tech, and I enjoyed looking at films, awed by the way I could see the inside of the body. Some of the most difficult images to interpret were nuclear medicine scans. They looked like a galaxy of stars in outer space. The equipment used to obtain the images looked like it was rolled off the Starship Enterprise.

But I still remember how scared I felt when I was twelve and that equipment was wheeled over me to obtain images of the lump in my neck. I tried to become a compassionate technologist who cares more for the individual on the table than the film that needs to be taken. The tumor in my neck taught me that.

In the end, I beat cancer and have only a tiny mark on my neck to show for it. I laugh when I recall how I fretted over a scar. I have vowed never to let a mark on my body control or interfere with my life. I have promised to instead care more about the mark I leave on society, because that is the most important thing.

~Barbara Canale

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