Showing Off My Scars

Throughout the years I’ve accumulated quite a collection of scars.  If I were a painted canvas, I would be an original, abstract piece of modern art. Instead, I’m a walking illustration of tenacity. At least, that’s how I see the story.

Before my first knee replacements 21 years ago, I spent a lot of time wondering what my scars would look like. When I placed my hand over my knee cap, I could feel heat emanating from the painful joint. It would look different after the surgery, but most importantly I hoped it would feel different.

I now can count overlapping knee replacement scars, hip replacements, a large “S” on my shin for a mole excision, white dots on my hands from old IV needles, and a larger mark on my arm for a PICC line to administer medications during my last knee replacement.

When my first knee replacement scars were new and healing—bright pink and numb lines of raised skin—I felt embarrassed about my new difference. I worried that they stood me apart and looked unattractive. Would my scars scare people away?

But as I worked hard at my rehab and watched the scars age and smooth, fading gently, I grew proud of them. They became a symbol of my journey, my fight with rheumatoid arthritis and overcoming a painful surgery.

As I gained scars, they became badges representing stories. How my new hips reduced my pain. How my new knees brought new problems. How the tiny scars indicate larger stories.

The new injuries hurt, then slow healing began and transformed the skin into something new. I gained new joints and new opportunities.

My rheumatoid arthritis wasn’t the direct cause of my scars, but they were the outcome of joint pain and other complications of having this condition for many years. Every time I considered—how would a procedure change me? What kind of scar would it leave? But the answer was always to soldier on and incorporate the new experience as a badge of honor, along with the new scar.

Of course, some scars we cannot see. Many are invisible, living in our memories and hearts. No one can see the tears I shed from all those surgeries or the many hours of exercise, sweat seeping from my brow as I fought for recovery.

We don’t need to be ashamed of our scars. We don’t need to fear them. These marks show that we are survivors.

A life with RA is often a life of struggle, of figuring out how to live with a painful chronic illness and its complications, while still maintaining lives. Our scars depict the struggle, they mark the fight and remind us of losses and victories.

I didn’t choose my scars; they chose me. But I would not be who I am without them. I’m an original and a warrior.

I show my scars with pride and tell the stories that go along with them. When I’m afraid, the scars remind me that I am strong.

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