Strong in the Broken Places

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” – Hemingway

Just months ago, I was repulsed by my body.

My arms were thin as twigs and barren of muscle, hanging from a bumpy, pale torso—bumpy from the ribs that protruded, the port-a-cath that sat beneath pockmarked skin, the rubber feeding tube above my belly button. Below my torso: thighs striped with purple skin due to extreme doses of steroids. Above: Thin, brittle hair and stained teeth; victim to caustic medication.

These imperfections were physical evidence of cystic fibrosis and I hated them for that. I refused to go shirtless at the beach, hunched my shoulders forward to make the port stick out less, sucked my stomach in so the feeding tube couldn’t be seen through my shirt, avoided doing work that would make my muscle weakness evident. Most of my friends knew I had cystic fibrosis but I always tried to hide how severe it was. My disease made me feel weak and ugly.

The evidence of my cystic fibrosis is still there today, with slight changes. My ribs poke out a little less, there are now a couple two-inch scars where my port was (we removed it when it got infected in June and almost killed me), my hair is even thinner, my muscle has further deteriorated from weeks in the hospital. I also have a PICC line (IV) in my right arm. The biggest of “slight changes” is a gigantic scar stretching across my chest and four round scars—two on each side of my rib cage. Evidently, removing/inserting lungs and chest tubes requires some cutting here and there.

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Hopefully, I don’t get many more large scars for a long, long time

While I don’t necessarily have less marks of the “diseased life,” my perspective on what they mean has shifted. I’ve begun to think of these marks as symbols—evidence of strength rather than weakness. The scars and imperfections are reminders of endurance and battles I probably shouldn’t have survived. Even at times I felt like giving up, my body kept struggling through: matter over mind, for once.

A year ago, I was in the dumps about how broken my body was—my ears and lungs were steadily shutting down. Someone anonymously left a blue ceramic bowl on my desk at work to cheer me up. The bowl was “broken,” but gold filled the cracks through kintsugi (“golden joinery”). Kintsugi is a Japanese art: broken pottery is repaired with gold, silver, or platinum. With these careful fixes, the pottery is even more beautiful than when it was whole. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to undergo the same treatment as the pottery. However, the cracks across my broken chest are filled with purple scar tissue rather than gold.

I’ve found beauty in that symbolism, and in my body as a result. I wouldn’t go as far as saying my body’s current state is my ideal. I still have a long way to go in repairing things and building muscle (that topic will be covered in my next post). But at least I am learning to be happy with the body God has given me. It’s taken me far, far, far and proven that it’s not as weak as I previously judged it to be.

Including a photo of my body is a big step for me in having positive body image. I don’t want to be ashamed anymore.

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A couple former sites of chest tubes, plus the bruising that still remains. Above is part of the transplant scar: cut in “clamshell” fashion and sewed up beautifully by my amazing surgeon.

P.S. Scars are cool and make ya’ look tough, right?

Want to donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to help find a cure? Check out my Great Strides page! Click here.