Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Me, Unvarnished

I am very careful about my public and private image.  Even Ron does not really always get what makes me tick. Heck, I don't even get what makes me tick.  I like dividing the good days very distinctly from the bad ones. Bad days are handled privately, not necessarily because I like being stoic, but because I do NOT like a scene, negative energy, or undue attention.  I have a great, fantastic life.  I would prefer to concentrate on that.

Public me
But I've been challenged to write my personal history.  Not one to shy away from a big assignment, I might as well make it a good one.  So, here it is, the unvarnished truth.  It has a happy ending, so no worries.

I've made no secret about the fact that when I was 21, and pregnant with my second child I went through the Big C, or maybe we should call it The Big M?  I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.  And it was really big and really scary and I was told to prepare for "The End".

Except that the end never came.  I waited and waited and low and behold, it didn't come.  There was no noble battle.  I didn't go through major treatment - because they honestly thought there was no use.  Was the diagnosis wrong?  No - I definitely had it.  I just got better.  A bit battle-scarred, but better all in all.  I can't explain why.

So I am grateful.  Incredibly, humbly grateful.  I got all the things that I was told I would lose.  Watching my children grow.  Living a full life.  Seeing graduations, and weddings and every Christmas and birthday. Holding grandchildren.  Getting to retire.  Going on our mission.  I hit the lottery.  Hurrah!

Conversely, my skin has not necessarily been super friendly.  I've had - let's see....at least 2 squamous cells and dozens more basal cell carcinomas.  Then there's the pre-cancerous fellas.  I have no estimate on that. Suffice to say these things just start 'popping up'  Year in, year out.  None have been dire.  They are just annoying.  Sometimes really, REALLY annoying.

There are different treatments.  Scraping, burning, freezing, various forms of surgical removal, and deep tissue laser restructuring.  I've had them all.  The Mohrs is a multi-hour to two day process.  I've had four of those in the last two years alone.  And the aggressive epidermal laser surgery back in 2003 was, to be honest, far worse than all of that put together.  Trying to avoid the sordid details, I received an aggressive version of laser surgery performed in-hospital that burned away my top three layers of skin.  It was gross and it hurt in a way I simply cannot describe.  It was two months before I was comfortable in leaving the house without fear of scaring little children and four before I actually began to look semi-normal again.

Fearing that I am coming across as whiny and pitiful, let me assure you that I don't really mean to be.  I do what I have to do to keep going. I had that surgery in an attempt to attack these errant cells way down deep, and it worked exactly how they said it should - for 10 whole years.  It was nice to have that break, and my little reward is less wrinkles.  But I've definitely determined that it's not something I will do again.  So instead I head off to the dermatologist every few months.  I've gotten into quite the rhythm now.  I gird my loins.  I accept the treatment plan.  I go through the procedures and the after care.  I remove the stitches and take the meds, and use the army of creams and oils and acidic treatments.  I wear long pants and sleeves even in the summer, use hats and umbrellas in the sunshine and generally follow my dermatologist's instructions to "look like that obsessive crazy woman in the crowd."

....and in the meantime, I thank God I'm still alive and healthy.

But in the morning, and again at night, I look in the mirror and I see those scars.  Scars on top of scars. Most people don't even know they're there.  I can see everyone of them.  I wonder, how many more there will be, and whether they'll become more and more obvious.  Whether the next time will be the the "Big One."  But most of all, I ask myself "what am I suppose to learn from this latest experience?" To me, that is the biggest test.  Because if I'm not learning and growing, I'm wasting valuable time.

                                          ....and the unvarnished me                             *Portraits by Dede

Let me explain.

I was 21 when I had the melanoma, and I was devastated.  Facing death with a newborn and a one year old will do that to ya.  I slid down the pity hill at breakneck speed.  I was not strong.  I was not brave.  I was not faithful.  I let the cancer completely take over not just my life, but my soul as well.

After discovering 5 years later that apparently I wasn't going to die after all, I looked back at my experience and thought MAN, what a waste!  I was determined that I would not let it happen again.

I believe that we are here to learn important lessons that are essential for our eternal potential and understanding.  If we don't learn it the first time around, it will come back.  But it will be bigger, and it will be harder.  Obviously I had something to learn.  I've thought about it long and hard, and here is what I've come up with:

There isn't anyone out there who doesn't have scars.  Inside or outside, big or little, we all have them.  But Heavenly Father loves us anyway.  Or maybe He loves us because of our scars.  Do I value my scars or do I regret and hate them?  My wonderful bishop was burned terribly as a child.  He has a very large scar. But you know what he told me?  "I can't see that scar on the inside, Nina".  He's right!  If I don't take the time to look in the mirror, I really don't think much about how I look at all.  So, whether big or small, obvious or imagined, the reality is that a scar is only as big as one allows it to be.  As a follower of Christ I know that He does not judge any of us by our appearance, status, intelligence or ability except the ability to love and trust Him enough to follow His example.  To prove it, He took mankind's scars and made them His own.

So, I may have lots of scars, but  I hope that when people notice them they say to themselves, "Man, she has fought the battle, and I can too!"

I also hope they think, "I'm going to start using sunscreen".


Special thank you to Dede Bessey, of Portraits by Dede for your patience and wonderful talent.  I felt safe in your hands and I love my 'real me' portrait!


  1. I love the real you portrait. You are beautiful! Also, thank you for sharing your story. :)

  2. I didn't know any of that, I'm ashamed to say we didn't know each other very well back then. All I really cared about at that time was that my little brother was happily married and alive.
    Thank you so much for sharing your personal self, and giving me a glimpse of the real you, love you����

  3. I love it too, and I love (and miss!) you!