Posted by: alainnneart | July 8, 2009

Scar tissue that I wish you saw.

I love it when pleasant visitors interrupt a day that is stagnating in routine.  It breaks up what can be monotonous at times, bringing a small breath of fresh air, of inspiration to patients and all of our lives here in the hospital.

Bethany is one of those love breaks in the day that came out of no where, a surprise visit like a gust of warm wind on a frozen winter afternoon.  Bethany is a cancer survivor.  First diagnosed when she was a teen, she went through the rigorous joys of chemo and radiation.  Her beautiful curly blond hair fell out, her athletic frame became emaciated.  Her body became a patchwork quilt of scar tissue.  The scar on her head, the one across her stomach, her neck, her arm pits, near her kidney.  Her body told a story of tough survival.  She was a girl who was too stubborn to let anything kill her, let alone “those freaky little cells” as she once told me while she sat in her chair, meds dripping into her body, listening to Nine Inch Nails.

She’s 21 now.  She’s going to college back east.  She smiles a crooked smile.  Her nose is pierced with a bright purple stone.  It matches her hair, once blond but now streaked with purple, weaved into a bun.   “It didn’t grow back curly,” she confides in me, “just straight as an arrow” She blows bubbles with her pink bubble gum, sitting on our station’s desk, laughing with the female nurses, smiling shyly but ever so provocatively at the male nurses.  She is wearing a baby doll sundress of emerald green.  It matches her bright eyes. Her confidence is mesmerizing.

After talking for a while and asking about life (“how is school?”  “Art Major!” “How about the boys?” a deep blush appearing in her pale cheeks “no comment”) I notice as she lifts her arms to stretch, the scar that traces her upper arm and armpit, down her left side.  Once upon a time, it was a searing red.  It was bemoaned as “the ugliest fucking thing in the world.”  Many a times Bethany and I had discussed her scars.  Now, the red was gone, replaced by tiny, intricate black markings.

Curious, I inquired to the markings.  Bethany smiled and dragged me to my office.  She took off her dress and stood in front of me, her medical provider of many years now, in her undergarments.  Her body, once marked with scars, now was covered with intricate tattoos.  The one on the arm: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Her leg: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”

Each scar was covered.  IT was beautiful.  Lastly, her lower back: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The quote I recognized, having seen it in the Cancer wing so many times when the memorial and funeral announcements for patients came to use.  But On Bethany, it was written in tiny letters, at the base of her spine, almost completely masked by the roots of a giant tree.

The tree took her entire back, each branch lettering of a quote she had chosen.  The branches reached so high they spilled over and where enveloped into the roots of the tree.  “It’s the tree of life,” she told me, “Based on Celtic designs I studied two semesters ago.  Putting the wording in was my idea.”   I asked her all the words that had inspired her.  She spoke them all, so bravely, like they were her mantra.  They echoed in my head “when you are going through hell, keep going”,  ““Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing”,  “No day but today”, “Perhaps I am stronger than I think”, “Barn’s burned down, now I can see the stars.”

Why, I asked her, had she chosen these particular sayings?  She blushed as she explained to me that being close to death at a young age and not dying makes you see in a different light.  Like a man who has never seen the color red, and is suddenly inundated with red apples, sunsets, fire, rubies… it creates a wondrous mind.  These are all saying she heard that she felt she could live by, for indeed, some had kept her alive in the darkest of nights.

There were more words I didn’t have time to read, but it was fascinating to me what wisdom a young girl could have.  She has faced death with an open heart, an open palm and an open mind and she has beaten him.  Perhaps, sometime in the future, he will come calling for her again, but right now, in this moment, she is inspiring to me.

She reminds me of all the happiness in the world.  She reminds me why it is I do what I do.

I spent the rest of my day as if I had never seen red before.



  1. wonderful outlook that girl has!!


  2. She sounds amazing and delightful. How wonderful to know you played a role in her beating cancer and living on to inspire others. I’m happy for you both.

  3. It’s a pretty awesome tattoo. Now I am thinking of doing the same. (I already am heavily tattooed but you would never know it.)

    Now I need something that inspires me. I should ask my mother.

  4. Beautiful post. She sounds pretty cool!

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