My body, however, is different. It wasn't designed to be taken apart, and there really are no parts that you can simply take out and replace—not “as good as new,” anyway. Each time I’ve been taken apart and laid out on an operating table with my bolts and washers all over the place, my surgeon cleaned me up, took out the broken bits, and then did his best to put me together again, as good as new. But each time, the process was more complex than with my Beetle. Each time, there were consequences to the action, and I was never again the same. Despite the skill of my surgeon, there were scars.
Scars: some were visible, like the permanent zipper on my abdomen, spoiling the potential for the perfect abs I’d always dreamed I’d develop some day. Other scars were deeper inside, scar tissue that invaded my body at its core. And, of course, there were psychological scars, which came from the trauma of the incident, the long shadow of death, and the realization that something had been taken from me which I’d never get back. Some of those emotional scars are still present, although not really evident until poked at by a mind trying to remember.
I recall sitting in a Starbucks as I put the finishing touches on my book, What I Learned from Cancer, sifting through medical records and remembering. I did a brief calculation about the spans of time in my cancer treatment and recovery, and I wrote this:
It had been 15 years, 3 months, and 14 days since cancer had been removed from my body. 5,584 days since my abdomen had been violated by the cut of a scalpel searching for the villain amidst the blood. And on that day, the sign reading, “5,584 days cancer-free,” came down and was replaced with one reading, “This body is out of order, again.”
And what was remarkable about the writing was that, 7 years after the incident it described, it drew tears. I sat at my table in the corner of Starbucks for half an hour, and I cried. I cried because that scar—the one I had not even known was there—hurt when I moved a certain way, and because, for a while, that pain would not subside.
My body will never again be “as good as new.” Cancer and surgery have made sure of that. But I have begun to celebrate my repair. I can look at my scars and celebrate my recovery from crisis as well as all that the journey has made and will continue to make of me. I can show off my golden joinery and believe that somewhere in the breaking, I have become something even better than new.