This is my body. It is thirty-three years old. A part of my body turned bad and began to spread and devour the good parts. For the past three years, numerous doctors have been helping me to kill the bad part. They have treated me with knives, poison, heat, antibodies, and radiation. My scars tell tales of what it means to do battle with cancer.
Hair. I lost most of the hair on top of my head from my second round of chemotherapy and shaved the rest. It's been growing back for three months now. I also lost half of my pubic hair from radiation to my pelvic bone two months ago.
Skin. I suffered acne on my face and scalp from an immunotherapy drug that proved ineffective. The redness is fading but I still some pockmarks on top of what I acquired during my teenage years.
Hands. My current chemotherapy causes redness, pain, and peeling of the skin on my hands and feet. I try to protect them with lotion, gloves, and soft footwear.
Tattoos. The radiation doctor gave me four pinpoint tattoos so that I could be aligned in the radiation machine for each of twenty doses. Two of the marks are on my midline and two are on my hips.
Port. To save the veins in my arm from frequent poking and the risk of burns from harsh chemotherapy drugs, I had a port installed near my left shoulder. It's a titanium disk placed just beneath the skin through which nurses can draw blood and administer medication.
Peritonectomy. I had a massive experimental surgery to remove the widespread tumors in my abdomen. Doctors took out sections of intestine, tumors on my liver and diaphragm, and the entire membrane surrounding the abdominal organs. I developed an infection with scary bugs so they had to go back in twice during the following week. After all of that surgery they couldn't sew me back up in the conventional way. Instead they covered the wound with plastic sheeting and attached a vacuum pump. Over the course of weeks this pulled the wound together and allowed it to heal, but it left a wide and gnarly scar.
Belly button. I still have a belly button, but with all the rearrangements nearby it's pressed closed and barely visible.
Colostomy. When the first surgeon went to remove a two-inch tumor in my colon, he found that it had escaped the colon and spread to nearby tissues. He didn't want to reattach the good part of my colon near the disease, so he opened a hole to the left of my belly button and attached it there. I had to wear a bag over this hole to collect stool but eventually had my colon reconnected.
Ileostomy. The doctors reconnected my colon after they took out all of the tumors they could find. The spot where it was reattached needed to heal, so they opened up a hole to the right of my belly button for digested food to exit from my small intestine. Later they closed that hole but it developed an infection and had to be reopened to heal, leaving an indentation in the scar.
Feeding tube. I took a turn for the worse after the experimental surgery and suffered from infections and kidney failure. I couldn't eat for three weeks, so the doctors inserted a feeding tube on the upper left of my abdomen. I had to keep it in for two months even after I started eating so that the canal could heal properly.
Drainage tube. I was also left with a tube and reservoir attached to the left side of my abdomen near the belt line. It collected excess fluid as my body healed from surgery.
Muscles and fat. I lost ten pounds from my first round of chemotherapy and another thirty pounds in thirty days from the big surgery. I have regained that thirty, but surgery and inactivity weakened my muscles. I have been feeling better lately and am working on getting my body back into better shape.
Body image. I haven't been to a beach or swimming pool since starting my battle with cancer. For the first year I had to wear bags on my belly to collect stool. That didn't seem too attractive, so I did my best to hide beneath two layers of clothing. Later I still had wounds healing and didn't want to expose them to the elements. But now the scars are fading and I'm getting more comfortable with accepting the state of my body. I hope to return to swimming this summer, maybe accompanied by a tale of how I fought a shark and won.