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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.''
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?
years later and after 20 attempts to reconstruct my face, I
was still coping with the insecurity.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 http://www.at-face-value.com
or through traditional book retailers and e-tailers. You can
also contact the author via email at email@example.com.