My shoulders tell many stories, particularly the left shoulder where I have a thick scar. Thinner on the ends, pale pink in the center and red along the edge.
This scar is now more than 20 years old, from when I was in the midst of cancer treatment (bone cancer, a large tumor above my knee). I had an ‘infusaport,’ a catheter, inserted into my shoulder so the chemotherapy could be administered more easily and directly into my bloodstream. Previously, they had tried IVs in my arms & hands, but these were inadequate for the task of administering the volume of drugs that I would receive. I would need a semi-permanent catheter embedded between the skin and muscle of my shoulder.
They had to make an incision about 3” long to insert the port. This scar never healed well, as the chemo was killing all of the ‘growing’ cells in my body—including those that would close the incision. My weekly chemo was pumped through a 3”long needles inserted into my shoulder and into the port. The needles left gaping holes that would not heal. Open sores.
By the time I was finished with my treatments, things started to heal. At least on the outside. But I couldn’t stand to touch my shoulder–not even with soap and washcloth–and I flinched whenever someone brushed against the shoulder accidentally. I always approached hugs with the right side of my body, hoping to avoid contact with the left.
I was self-conscious about the scar, which even years later was a raw red color. When I went to prom and chose a dress with thin straps, my Mom sewed a ruffle to cover my left shoulder. A Young Women’s leader taught me to sew my own swimsuits, and I learned to put bright ruffles and straps across my left side.
I married about 8 years after the end of my chemotherapy treatments. I explained to John about my shoulder, asked him not to avoid it. Warned him of the teeth-gritting pain that accompanied even a light touch. I trusted him to be gentle. And he has been.
In meditation over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that my shoulders are carrying great pain. They are stiff and tight. I stoop. By the evening they are sore and burning, they have knots of stress. I began to realize the need for healing. To make them my own again. I started gentle stretches. Worked to make them more loose. Looked at myself in the mirror and pulled my shoulders back–standing straight and tall.
I told my yoga teacher of my desire to work on my shoulders. She pulled me and a classmate aside. She had me bend at the waist, then balance on one foot with the other foot stretched out straight behind me. The other woman took my wrists and pulled them firmly towards her. So my shoulders were being stretched forward. And my teacher put her hands on my shoulders. Lightly and firmly. “You are strong, so strong” she said. And I believe her.