I’m feeling quite grateful today in many ways. I just had lunch with an old friend from my medical training. She’s always been a lovely person, but today, I was reminded how truly beautiful she is inside and out.
Nancy, at 32, is a two-time breast cancer survivor in addition to having lost her mother at a young age due to breast cancer. She recently underwent a total mastectomy with reconstruction, and the aftermath left it difficult for her to exercise due to removal of muscles in her back used for her reconstruction. In turn, she gained about 25 pounds after her surgery. The pain of losing her mother to cancer, then getting diagnosed herself, along with a recurrence and painful surgery are enough for anyone to give up. But not Nancy, she always keeps a smile on her face and tries to look at the bright side — her attitude is inspirational.
Today at lunch, we talked for a while. She was disappointed at her weight but motivated to lose the pounds. She splurged on a personal trainer and reported it has been “life-changing” for her since it’s helped her get out some energy and internal frustration.
While her physical recovery has been taxing, there were two other aspects of her journey that I couldn’t help but appreciate: (1) her struggle to accept her surgical scars, and (2) her lifelong battle with acne. Both may be easily overlooked or tossed aside as unimportant, but with the skin being my passion, I knew that it was more important to her than she let on.
Nancy told me that she has finally started actively dating, but hadn’t found the right person yet. Part of her hesitation to be more pro-active about her dating life originates from self-consciousness about her surgical scars. While easy to feel comforted about your appearance when in a relationship with a loving partner, it is harder to flaunt surgical scars when developing a new relationship.
I never truly appreciated how difficult the breast cancer journey can be for a single woman until talking with her.
Nancy admitted that things were looking pretty good after the reconstruction, but the scars were still notable. I happily informed her that the world of scar therapy has immensely advanced, and laser treatment of scars has really been miraculous. Below I show one of the scars I treated that resulted from a skin cancer surgery. Nancy was so happy and hopeful once I let her know her options.
Creating hope for people is one of the best things I can do as a physician and friend.
The second topic seems trivial compared to Nancy’s breast cancer journey, but it was definitely noticeable! Nancy had clear skin! Still battling with her acne in her 30s, she finally decided to proceed with Accutane (isotretinoin) — with unbelievable results. Instead of being distracted by deep cystic pimples, my eye instead focused on her beautiful smile, which is just so radiant and representative of her personality. As I examined her face, I was proud of my specialty of Dermatology, and I was proud of the often-vilified medication’s (Accutane) ability to remove self-consciousness from people who may be hiding their skin and face. No more cover up needed. It is truly one of the most powerful tools I have in giving people back their self-confidence. There is no reason to suffer from scarring acne when a miraculous cure exists for those who truly suffer. (That’s right, I didn’t say “dangerous,” I said “miraculous.” More on that later.)
I share Nancy’s story because she has truly inspired me. She keeps my troubles and worries in perspective — she reminds me to be grateful.
I’m grateful for my health, family, and healthy skin. I’m grateful for my job as a dermatologist, a job that I love. I’m grateful for the chance to give others clear skin. I’m one of the few doctors that people actually like to see… I don’t make people take diabetes or blood pressure medication. People are usually motivated to use my prescribed treatments to improve their skin. It is the only organ system we can see with our eyes, and thus the benefits are often both somatic (of the body) and psychological. I love what I do, and I’m so happy to share it with others.
I was so refreshed and happy to see Nancy. Life’s a journey, not a destination, and Nancy is still on her journey for health, love, and fitness. On her way, she found clear skin, hope for her scars, and the best attitude one could ask for!
Dr. Jackie Dosal is a board-certified dermatologist in Miami, FL. About Dr. Dosal: http://goo.gl/hbgqZW