After Effects: The Scars People Don’t See

It was 2005 and I was in a cab in New York with Caroline Myss. I had met her in the lobby of her hotel and I was escorting her to the conference hall at the Sheraton in Times Square. After reading a few of her books, I was filled with excited anticipation, sharing this private time with her before she began her keynote. I remember this taxi ride, but can’t for the life of me remember what she told me. It was something important, words that I held dear and shared with friends at pivotal moments in their lives. Poof. It’s gone.

Earlier today I sat trying to recall the name of another author and teacher I love, someone who inspires a deep connection and stewardship with the earth, but the harder I searched, the bigger and blacker the hole in my memory became, until my brows furrowed into a knot and I knew I had to just let it go for the moment.

This happens to me all the time, and I have learned to jokingly play it off. I chalk it up to my “swiss cheese memory” or residual chemo brain. Although I finished 5 months of treatment back in January of 2015, I still struggle with recall. Three and a half years later, I’m still not ready to accept these permanent changes to the way I think, that whole chunks of my life’s experiences are wholly inaccessible to me now. It’s like a beloved photo album was punted it into the air and many of those key moments and conversations scattered, leaving sticky yellow rectangles and partially filled pages.

I lean on my husband and my close friends, lapping up their version of our shared memories, listening and watching carefully with this vague knowing of how the story ends up. I nod like I’ve seen the episode on Netflix. I know this one.

It brings up some bitterness and shame and mourning for my lost wit and edge. I so prized my ability to conjure up detail and random fact. It’s not all gone, but just that the wires get crossed, and the recall takes longer. I’m sure some of this happens naturally as one gets older, but this is different, a sharper left turn than the rounded bend of middle age. I mourn the loss of who I use to be, and who I could have become, some unknown potential if my memory were fully intact.

It’s not just access to older data, but newer input as well. To skillfully cover my back, I’m a fastidious note taker and list maker. Making a mark seems to ingrain new information in a visual way, so I can store it and access it. I make up for it in other ways too, ever privately tallying my usefulness, like my eerie wifeskill of locating a lost wallet and keys. I have a mental map of my home and keen intuition to guide me.

It occurred to me today that there was a trade off for my memories. Healing cancer taught me presence. It taught me to be in THIS moment. This type of beingness and presence takes place right here and now, not in yesterday or tomorrow or next week or month. Never before had I this much awareness and value in mindful presence, beyond a neat and tidy new-agey concept that I occasionally made time for between 7:15 and 7:20am on a meditation cushion with a perfectly straight back.

THIS presence I have come to know is entirely something else. It is a folding in on myself, sinking deeper into the couch cushions, swallowing my entirety and exhaling a timeless, borderless belonging with all things. What a paradox of wanting to know, needing to know, and tricking yourself to believe that you KNOW how anything will turn out, only to truly have certainty over what is here right now, and right now, and right now…

Also, I have learned (and try to remember) not to over commit, not to over-do it. Whereas I use to feel obliged to say “yes” to everything, I simply can’t. I learned that it is not only healthy, but good to say “no” or “maybe” to invitations and requests. Being present and mindful considers the conditions of what is here now, not two weeks or one month from now.

Though stronger and feeling better than I have since before cancer, my body is less forgiving now. I know when I have overdone it because the sting and numbness of neuropathy will flare up in my fingers and toes. I had hoped this lingering effect would have gone away, but it seems this is part of my life now. I have adapted to it, and use it as a measurement of how much rest and recovery is needed.

I forget where I heard this, but connect to the idea that “everyone’s got something!” I get curious and filled with empathy when I consider all that might be going on for someone sitting at the traffic light next to me, or passing by in the grocery store. It’s easy to see someone’s struggle when they cover their baldness with a headscarf, or walk with a limp, or use a wheelchair or cane. There might be emotional and psychological wounds hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to ignore or overlook the scars that no one sees. Wounds might disfigure and distort, but with time, support and reflection, they also have the potential to transform us in profound ways.

“Just let go. Let go of how you thought your life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.” 
― Caroline Myss


art by Zapista 


*MELISSA EPPARD is a certified Life Coach. When her son was only 3 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer. Now she coaches people through difficult transitions, and helps people live their best lives at any age or stage. She helps ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets, and lives by the belief that what you nurture will grow!


4 thoughts on “After Effects: The Scars People Don’t See”

  1. Hi Melissa,
    OMG.. it’s really shouldn’t be as surprising to me as it is, but your description of how you feel is just so familiar! I totally relate. Obviously not your experiences , but just about everything else! Especially the memories, & sinking further into the couch (Lol), and definitely the wonders of what might have been. The things I could have done if not for this or that….
    Please know that relating to your story does give me hope. Let’s me see that I’m just not alone in the world with my suffering… and most importantly, that I don’t have to give in! Thank you for your stories!!!!🙂

  2. This really resonated with me, Melissa, in the way that living through my mother’s death as well as some extremely intense experiences with Lucas’s mental health over the last several years have changed me irrevocably. I am vividly aware of and grateful for the gift of immersing myself in the here and now in a way i never could before. Thank you as always for your beautiful words and your ability to connect and share!

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