Cancer left me with permanent facial disfigurements. The more people stared and made hurtful comments, the more self-conscious I became, and I began to withdraw from the world I once knew. Finally, cancer became all I was, mentally and physically, and I was afraid to step out of that world because I knew I would never be the same person again.
But with the help of Wellspring, I am learning that I am so much more than my scars. I’m still a wife, mother, and grandmother, and I now genuinely believe that my heart, not my face, identifies me.
My particular journey began with a simple toothache. At that time, I was so focused on caring for an ill family member that I just took pain medicine until I found time to see a dentist. After that, everything began to happen quickly. Immediately I was referred to a local hospital for a biopsy and, two weeks later, was scheduled for surgery at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
Within a month of that initial dentist appointment, a tumour had grown from the back of my jaw into my lip. The surgery required an incision from the top of my nose to my throat and across my face.
Afterward, it took me two months to muster the courage to look at myself in a mirror.
All this happened mid-pandemic when visitors weren’t allowed in the hospitals. So my healthcare team became my doctors, my counsellors, and my friends all in one. I’m so grateful for their care because it was through them that I learned about Wellspring.
Wellspring helped me in so many ways. Since I couldn’t travel and didn’t want to leave the house, the online programs became life-changing. I found the journalling program helped me relieve my stress. Some days, it was like screaming out loud, but on paper. And I’ve learned that exercising is my new salvation. I also now know how much I would have welcomed having someone to talk to who understood what I was going through. So, I am training to become a head and neck cancer peer support volunteer to be a positive voice of understanding, compassion and encouragement for others facing similar issues.
Today I’m considered cancer free, but I know that mentally and physically, I will never be over cancer. I’ve changed a great deal because a lot has changed me. I may have scars and sometimes drool or struggle to get words out clearly, but I am now taking steps to live by new rules. I only do things that bring me joy, such as long walks in nature and spending time with my children and eight grandchildren. I no longer dwell on the fact that not everyone is kind, so I don’t let strangers dictate who I am. Every day, I read a note on my bathroom mirror that says, “I’m beautiful.” I am no longer ashamed and am learning to keep the darkness and the bad days at bay.
I’m still a work in progress, but the more I work on it with Wellspring, the better I get.