Beyond the Scars: Kristin’s Story of Resilience After Facial Reconstruction
Every week, I have the privilege of caring for patients undergoing facial reconstruction following skin cancer. The process can be long and challenging, emotionally and physically. Our patients have taught us so much about bravery and strength of spirit.
Here is Kristin’s Story:
Everyday when Kristin Keeney looks in the mirror, she can see evidence of a cancer struggle that has lasted for what seems like much longer than four years. Others might not notice the tiny scars, but Kristin knows the process behind each and every one. No matter how much the scars fade, the memories are still there. There’s the L-shaped scar near her mouth, a zig-zag scar on her left temple, and the one above her right eyebrow where hair doesn’t grow any more. She’s had seven incisions and six of those were on her face. “You have to make a choice when you look in the mirror,” says Kristin. “You can notice all the flaws, or you can see it as a process to a stronger you.”
But Kristin didn’t always have such a positive outlook. She delayed getting treatment on her growing spots because she thought there would be dark days ahead. “You get busy with life, you put things off because you are a mom and you put yourself last,” says Kristin. “But you are scared. What is the process going to be? What’s it going to look like?”
Even though Kristin’s surgeries were successful and she was able to go out in public within weeks, healing was a process that sometimes left Kristin feeling ugly. She had stitches on her face and she couldn’t wear make-up for several days to cover anything up. One procedure led to bruising around her eyes that persisted for a month. After a spot was removed in her hairline, she had to keep a healing ointment on her incision that made her hair look greasy. “The courage that it took me to go to the store with no makeup felt like a huge feat,” says Kristin. “It was hard just to look in the mirror, but I still had to go to work and take care of the kids.”
Kristin didn’t change her attitude toward her recovery process overnight. It was, and still remains, a process. She’s cried after every surgery, but she finds a way to turn her attitude around. Kristin shares a few thoughts on how to get through the hard days with a positive attitude:
Shift your focus. “For the first surgery, I was focused on me. By the second surgery, I was sick of myself,” says Kristin. “I can choose to be mad and question why this happened to me and I can have angry thoughts, or I can accept this happened and go about how to fix this.” Kristin says shifting her focus to help other people helped her heal.
Draw on your faith. Kristin pulled her family, friends, and church family close. She prayed. She met with close friends for support. “I gave it over to God and said just help me,” says Kristin. “The inner peace helped me sort through everything and turn it into a good situation. It helped me draw closer in faith instead of farther away.”
Keep a journal. Kristin used a journal to record her thoughts and prayers whenever she felt overwhelmed. “It helps me categorize what is bothering me,” says Kristin. “I can step back and my perception has changed and I realized I can put a plan together to try to handle everything.”
Talk yourself out of a bad day. Bad days happen and negative thoughts will surface. “I can’t stop them, but I can choose whether or not I dwell on them and let them snowball,” says Kristin. “Often, I would speak to myself out loud because you can’t talk one thing and think another.” When Kristin would see the scars and redness on her face in the mirror, she would talk positively and actively envision the healing process.
Fight. Don’t give in. Pity and despair will come easy, but don’t let it. “It is easier to wallow,” says Kristin. “Pull yourself up and say this is not where we are going. The battle is in your mind and your outlook. It starts with what’s in your head.”
If you are struggling with facial reconstruction or would like to contact Kristin directly, please contact our office.
Find answers to frequently asked questions about facial reconstructive surgery.