This I Believe

Kelly - Arroyo Grande, California
Entered on July 5, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: hope, illness, love

I believe in the power of a kiss.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Melanoma. While we caught it before it became invasive, my dermatologist followed protocol and performed two excisions on my left upper-arm, necessitating the removal of the underlying muscle and two layers of sutures to hold it closed, leaving me with an ugly wound. My sutures were such a bright blue against my pale Irish skin that my niece and nephew were fascinated, constantly asking to see them; I thought that I looked like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster on crack: skin pulled so tight that it shone.

I didn’t regain full range of motion in that arm for several weeks and had to warn the kids against hanging on my wing. At two and four years old, they wanted to swing, twirl, and squeeze with abandon. I was forced to act with uncharacteristic-auntly restraint. They learned quickly, with their special brand of youthful concern and love, and treated me with kid gloves.

Once all healed, the kids remained reticent to touch me, though they still asked to see my scar. I treated my wound with a mixture of embarrassment and loathing that ate away at my self-esteem in such small bites that I hardly noticed. Some days I’d rub on salve to ease the throbbing and careful choose a blouse to hide the mark. Other days I flaunted it – sleeveless – daring others to stare.

Following my recovery, my brother moved his family out of state, taking with him the pleas from my niece and nephew to twirl them, to hold them tight, and to, pretty please, let them peek at my scar (now a keloid gash in my arm that I jokingly tell strangers is the result of a wild wrestling match with a mountain lion, in which the cat got in just one nibble).

I visited my brother and his family last Thanksgiving. The first question from the kids when my sister-in-law picked me up from the airport: “Aunt Kel, can we see your scar?” When we got home, my niece immediately asked if she could touch it. With particular care, she ran her tiny finger down my lumpy, pink, ugly mark, and then leaned over and kissed it. “Better?” she asked. Definitely.

While I am the adult, the one who is supposed to kiss her ‘ouchies’ and make them better, a kiss from my three-year-old niece helped to heal my wound: not just the one that resulted from surgery, but also the mark left on my psyche after my body had been invaded, then marred, by skin cancer. I was still kissable.

I didn’t know the impact that my one truly minor and relatively insignificant scar had on my body image until a recent return to the dermatologist for yet another excision…

when I wished for the healing power of that kiss.