My Eyes Are Up Here
Honore Nolting resides in Chicago and was born in raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A Midwestern girl to the core, she loves the simple things in life like spending time with family, writing and traveling. When she is not writing books, she works as a senior manager of strategic initiatives and communications for a Fortune 500 company. Honore wrote "128 Days and Counting" - a caregiver's memoir of young adult cancer - because she was feeling lost in a dark time in her life and wanted to give back to the cancer community, and specifically to young adults who deal with so much heartbreak and uncertainty during a cancer diagnosis. Her husband, Tom, was diagnosed with cancer at age 30 in 2015 — just three years into their marriage.
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Tom and I took the cancer phase of our life with a big dose of laughter as our best medicine; it got us through our absolute worst days and made us feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel.
However, having humor has gotten us through the tough days after cancer too.
As a couple, we love to travel and explore. It was one of the things that was so hard to have taken away from us when he was sick. For the most part we had to hunker down and not be out and about, especially considering his treatment was during peak flu season and he had no immune system. As he has recovered and was feeling better, we got right back to traveling.
Fast forward to this past February and we were walking down Clearwater Beach in Florida. It was the first time that Tom was going to take off his shirt in public since his surgery to remove the tumor from his chest. The only other time the scar had been “public” was when we had a cake in his likeness at his Cancer Survivor Party. He was left with quite the scar - the scar starts just below his collar bone to the middle of his stomach. To top it off, his scar tissue is on the outside of his body (called keloid) instead of underneath his skin, so there is no hiding it.
I knew he was a nervous to take off his shirt in public with such an overt scar, but he pulled off his shirt and we started to walk down the beach. We were walking about calf deep in the water and strolling down the beautiful beach. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the beach was packed and the breeze was heavenly. It was moments like these that made my heart full because I had imagined them when we had been locked up in our hospital room for chemo treatments.
As we walked the beach, Tom looked at me and asked if this was what it’s like to be a woman. I had no idea what he meant, and burst out laughing when I realized he meant that everyone was looking at his chest and scar.
“My eyes are up here,” he joked.
His chest was getting more attention than mine, and I was in a bikini! The looks were overt to say the least. People our age were looking at us puzzled, wondering how he got a scar like that. And older people seemed a different kind of puzzled, wondering how someone as young as him could have a scar that tells such a story. His scar tells a story of many years lived, not something you would expect to see on a 32-year-old.
Honestly, I was blown away at how many people just stared, said something out loud, or even pointed. I knew he didn’t like the looks, and we ended up going in the ocean for a dip. We dove in the waves laughing and enjoying ourselves and couldn’t help but notice a young boy who kept staring at Tom. He was about 10 and was transfixed by his scar. As we bobbed and floated around in the water, I told Tom to look at the kid with a straight face, and tell him it was a shark bite scar.
Tom laughed, and entertained the idea for a moment but thought his scar was too straight to be a shark bite and he didn't want to frighten this poor kid.
By the time we left that beach, Tom was so much more comfortable than when he had first taken off his shirt. With a little bit of humor we once again powered through a strange “new” experience after cancer.
Later that night, a quote had popped up on my social media from a cancer organization that I follow: “Scars are stories, history written on the body." It was simple, but true.
As we power on into our future, we’ve got some history, and a scar that is a daily reminders of a dark time in our lives, but like scars, we continue to heal, we move on, and more than anything we are thankful that he is still here — scars and all.