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Welcome to The Cancer Information Network

Cancer Left Me With Scars Everyone could See, But The Worst Ones Were Invisible

By Terry Healey

  At the age of 20, my life had been smooth sailing, seldom interrupted with adversity or difficulty. I was a junior at the University of California at Berkeley. I was confident, enjoyed athletics, was doing well in school, and was considered handsome. I had even been the homecoming prince back in high school.

But during my junior year, over a period of a couple of weeks, several people asked me what was wrong with my nose. I finally took notice of the bump pushing against my right nostril, but it didn't seem like a big deal. I just assumed it would go away. When it didn't, I made an appointment with a doctor who suggested a biopsy.

It turned out that I had a tumor - a rare fibrosarcoma. Although the bulk of it had been removed during the biopsy, my doctor said I'd need a follow-up surgery to excise any remaining tumor cells. I wasn't alarmed; my assessment of the situation was that I had little to worry about. The procedure proved to be minor. With only a few sutures alongside of my nose and a few more inside my pallet, I returned to classes looking like I had been in a fight with someone, not something.

But six months later, I discovered a new lump rising from the lower portion of my right nostril. Then I began to feel tingling in my cheek. Visits to numerous specialists confirmed that my previously unthreatening tumor had procreated itself into a horrific, life-threatening and potentially disfiguring malignancy. My doctor informed me that I could lose half my nose, half my upper lip and possibly my right eye, but that saving my life was his main concern. I suppose I was too young to contemplate dying, but the realization that I could be disfigured was devastating.

I awoke from the first surgery with a skin graft attached to my face from the skin and fat of my shoulder and chest. Half my nose and upper lip was gone, the muscle and bone from my right cheek had been excised and the shelf of my eye, six teeth and part of my hard palate had been removed. My doctor's only promise to me was that he would make me "streetable'' before I left the hospital. I did not understand at the time that that was his way of preparing me for a life of disfigurement.

When I was released from the hospital, I noticed adults staring at me and children pointing and sometimes laughing at me. I realized that my hospital room had protected me. Outside of it, I was vulnerable and exposed. How was I going to face the world? I cared what other people thought of me. I relished the admiring looks I had received as the "old Terry'' and was petrified of the reaction I'd get to the "new Terry.''

Over the next few months, I encountered many old friends and acquaintances. Their sometimes inadvertently negative reactions and comments left an indelible mark on me. On top of what people were saying, radiation treatments had begun to shrink the tissue on my face, magnifying my deformity. My self-esteem sank lower than I thought possible. I found myself constantly seeking reassurance from people - did my looks bother them? What did they see? Did they like me? How could they like me?

Five years later and after 20 attempts to reconstruct my face, I was still coping with the insecurity.

When I went in for my last reconstructive procedure, I met a woman who was also being treated at the hospital. We began dating. One day, after listening to me ask her, for the umpteenth time, how she felt about my looks, she ripped into me. The bulk of my problem, she informed me, was not my physical appearance, but my emotional insecurity. Her honesty helped me to realize that surgery would not fix the mental and emotional scars that had become far more disfiguring elements than the appearance of my face ever had.

 I began to examine myself from the inside out. The support of family and friends, prayer and the realization that my scars were deeper on the inside than the outside all combined to strengthen my spirit and belief in my self. I became a volunteer at The Wellness Community, a cancer support organization that offers hope and support for patients and their families.

Helping others seemed to be the greatest form of therapy. I began to feel better about myself as I realized that I could bring tremendous inspiration and hope to those coping with cancer. Over time, the pain I felt from being an outcast subsided.

 Perhaps I will always be an outcast, but it's not pain I feel any more. I am thankful for who I am today - much stronger and wiser than I was before cancer.

 We all struggle with insecurities in one form or another. For me it took something devastating - something that would take me to the depths of self evaluation - to realize that battle scars are what make people interesting; battle scars are what make people wise; battle scars are what make people realize how precious and valuable life really is; battle scars are what prepare people for the inevitable adversity that lies ahead.

Sixteen years after my cancer treatment, I remain cancer-free. I've accomplished a lot personally and professionally. I recently published a book about my experience and one of the most therapeutic outcomes of releasing my book to the public is that it has given me an opportunity to share my story and speak in front of groups of cancer patients, medical professionals, sales professionals, and the community at large. I learned a lot at a very young age and am grateful for those gifts and lessons that I hope I can communicate to people faced with challenges and adversity in their own lives. If you donít get a chance to hear me speak, just remember one of my messages: Refrain from making judgments at face value.


Terry Healey is a marketing consultant who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His book is entitled At Face Value: My Struggle With A Disfiguring Cancer and is available via his web site at or through traditional book retailers and e-tailers. You can also contact the author via email at

Suggested Readings
1. Subscribe the monthly newsletter of The Cancer Informa- 
tion Network. 

2.Click for cancer Books recommended by our Oncologists.  You may purchase these books with discount price directly through our links with Amazon .com.

3.Living with cancer: A message of hope. by Anne Bancroft. (VHS 55 minutes).

4.Affirmations for Living beyond Cancer. by Bernie S. Siegel (VHS).

5.50 Essential Things To Do When the Doctor Says It's Cancer.
Top 10 Questions after Cancer Diagnosis - Virtual Hospital provides this informative lecture hitting all the major points about diagnosis and treatment.
  Ask a Physician - From Mayo Health - Do you have specific questions or concerns? Click here to ask a specialist, or browse frequently asked questions about cancer.
  Webcasts Alphacancer provides  discussions between leading health professionals on a particular topic.  Currently available topics include breast cancer and colon cancer.

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