Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Beautiful Scar

Rebecca sailed through childhood with a minimum of fuss, the usual scrapes, few illnesses and wonderful academics. Michael didn't sail. He skipped, ran, hopped, rolled, teetered and bounced. The only things he liked about school were recess, lunch and sports.
Mike loved to climb trees, the higher the better. Afraid of scaring him and causing him to fall, I have calmly talked him down, while my heart was in my throat and my knees felt like jelly. No scolding, spanking, or any other punishment kept him from climbing. (No, spanking wasn't illegal in those days.)

When Michael was fourteen, his dad bought him a Honda dirt bike, a purchase that caused me to consider divorce or murder. I had always stated that a motorcycle would take up residence on my property over my dead body. It was inconceivable that one of those deathtraps was going to carry my son all over the countryside - and with his father's approval!
Somehow, the boy survived. He grew up, married a beautiful, dark-eyed young woman, and fathered two children, a son and a daughter. Michael became a partner in his dad's business, a dangerous occupation that he grew to love: select cutting of timber. Safety measures are stressed above all else; and most of the time, Michael follows them. Shortcuts, no pun intended, are deadly in the timber. Two things especially are not done: "You never cut down trees alone" and "you cut smart and don't try to outrun a falling tree."

One day Michael did both. The tree splintered, snapped and the trunk flew upwards, striking Michael's head. He remembers being airborne. When he regained consciousness, he was draped across the trunk, one hand still on the running chainsaw, wedged beneath the tree. He freed his hand, but it took three attempts before he could stand up without passing out again. His hardhat saved his life, but I've always wondered if his hard head wasn't also a major factor...that and his guardian angel.

One day I received a call from my son in the middle of an afternoon, a rare occurrence. "Mom, I don't want to scare you, but I'm in trouble. There's something wrong with my heart. Joyce made me go to the doctor, and he's sending me to the ER. He told me I might not live to get there." Mike's heart had developed an irregular beat so severe that the doctors were afraid that he would go into cardiac arrest. A heart cath showed no damage, and medicines are controlling the irregularity, for which we are all very grateful.

Don't ever ask, "What next, Lord?" For years I have fussed at my children and four grandchildren about their laxness in using sunscreen. Most of them get periodic sunburns, sometimes waiting to see me until the redness has faded. They know that I'm going to react with frustration and impatience. I often told Michael that he wouldn't look very pretty without a nose.

That remark came back to haunt me. Mike's sweet wife finally convinced him to see a dermatologist about a small place beside his nose that bled every time he washed his face. I was convinced that the biopsy would reveal skin cancer, but I wasn't prepared for the report.
"Mom, I got gypped again," Mike told me on the phone. I chuckled a bit.
"You have skin cancer, don't you? Don't worry, Honey. Doctors can take it right off." There was a long pause before Mike answered.
"Mom, it's melanoma," he said. I felt as if someone had driven a fist into my stomach. I couldn't breathe. Oh Dear Lord! I cried silently. Melanoma kills people! Our families have already lost so much this year! My daughter-in-law's young brother and grandmother and Mike's grandmother all died within the year! Mike is already dealing with a heart problem! Enough, Lord!

The next few weeks were filled with alternating states of fear and hope and faith. Additional biopsies showed that the cancer filled a larger area than first thought, but the doctors were hopeful and encouraging. They felt confident that all of the cancer could be removed and that there was very little possibility that it had spread anywhere else in his body. Their main concern was the reconstructive process, since such a large area would have to be removed near his nose, even a small part of his nostril.

The surgery was successful; and for many days Mike had to wear a bandage in the middle of his face. After it was removed, there was a red, swollen area that wasn't very pretty; but it improved daily. I didn't care what it looked like. I was just happy that the cancer had not invaded a vital organ.

The other day, for the millionth time, I looked at my handsome son. With my eyes, I traced the fine line that runs from just below his eye to the curve of his nostril. The surgeons did a remarkable job repairing his face. I told Mike that his scar is a war wound, a badge of honor, regardless of how it looks, and that it adds character to a too-handsome face. He thought about that for a minute before he replied, "Huh! You're right. It is a war wound!"
I've learned that nothing hurts us more than watching our children hurt, regardless of how old they are. I've learned that faith isn't faith until it's tested, and I've learned that we don't know whether we really have it until we need it. We can walk away victorious in battle, but we often carry scars to prove the victory.

The remnant of cancer on Michael's face is a line about the width of two strands of thread, a fine scar...a beautiful scar. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I thank God for it, daily. It's a constant reminder of how fragile we are, a reminder that we are simply made of flesh and bone, held together with skin. Michael's scar is a token of mercy, grace, and healing, things I don't want to take for granted, ever again.

By: Barbara Elliott Carpenter


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