Taking My Cancer Experience at Face Value

At 20 years old, life was smooth sailing. As a junior in college, I was confident, athletic and a good student. I was living life on “easy street.”

But one glance at my latest UC Berkeley college identification card indicated something had changed. A second glance confirmed that my right nostril was suddenly flaring out. Eight weeks of doctor visits and a biopsy finally led to a diagnosis.

It turned out that I had cancer, a rare fibrosarcoma. The initial treatment proved minor, and I thought I was on the road to a full recovery.

But six months later, I discovered a new lump in the same nostril. Then my cheek began tingling. Numerous specialists confirmed that my previous, supposedly unthreatening tumor had procreated a horrific, life-threatening malignancy that also had the potential to cause severe disfigurement.

Terry Healey after major cancer surgery in 1985.

I awoke from surgery to find that half of my nose had indeed been removed, along with half of my upper lip, muscle and bone from my right cheek, the shelf of my eye, six teeth and part of my hard palate. My doctor promised to make me “streetable” before I left the hospital. I had no idea what that might mean, but assumed I would look “acceptable.”

As I re-entered the real world, I noticed adults staring and children pointing—and sometimes giggling when in a group—at me. My hospital room had protected me, but outside of it, I was vulnerable and exposed.

Five years and 20 reconstructive surgeries later, I was plagued with insecurity. During my last procedure, I met a woman receiving treatment at my hospital. We began dating, but after hearing me ask—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 realize that my mental and emotional scars were far more disfiguring than my physical ones. Once I got over the devastation that she was no longer interested in me, I began to realize how lucky I was that she had highlighted my greatest weakness. With a fresh perspective, I realized that surgery wasn’t something I could control. What I could control was focusing on rebuilding what was inside.

A current photo of Terry Healey.

I began examining myself from the inside out and used prayer and support from loved ones to boost my spirit and self-esteem. I volunteered at Cancer Support Community and discovered that helping others is great therapy. I felt progressively better as I offered inspiration and hope to those coping with cancer. With time, my emotional pain subsided.

Thirty-eight years later, I remain cancer-free, and am now more confident than when I was living life on “easy street.” The whole experience was transformative in such a positive way.

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.

Terry Healey is an author and a motivational speaker. For more information about his speaking and books, please visit his website http://www.terryhealey.com.


This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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