Marks and Meaning

Something marks everybody. Even those who travel through life unmarked, unscathed by tragedy or disaster – that itself becomes their mark, their emotional landscape somehow flat and smooth missing the texture and tone that marks leave behind.

Marks change us, indelibly etching themselves into the fabric of who we are left by events from which there is no return.

My mark is cancer. A tumor in my left breast that grew overnight, nestled against my heart patiently waiting for me to discover it and then for me to let someone else uncover its sinister plan; to occupy not just the coveted spot next to my heart and the lymph nodes tucked under my arm, but to occupy the rest of me. Stopped in its tracks by a red cocktail that took my hair, my eyebrows and my sense of self I submitted to my savior, sacrificing my body to save my life.

Out of the ashes a new me was born, not a phoenix, more like a baby lamb; vulnerable, unsure, wobbly on its legs and marked. A mark I was forced to wear on the outside during those months of treatment, bald and bruised and bloated, and one I wore on the inside once I looked normal again.

My mark accompanied me everywhere like an invisible pile of bricks that I dragged behind me, each brick representing the bits and pieces of the life that I’d lost and the journey I’d been forced to take to end up alive but scarred. I wore my mark not like a badge of honour but like a blemish, a scar on my left breast that I felt tainted me, made me somehow defective and I struggled every morning with getting through the day believing myself to be less than I was before, before this event that marked me and that didn’t let me go back to who I was, to a me in a world I remember only as happy and bright, a world that had come crashing down around me in one moment of random mutation.

I struggled to make sense of it all, to find meaning in the miracle of being given a second chance, swinging sharply from feeling grateful for being alive to feeling petrified at the thought of it all happening again.

Something marks everybody. It’s not the mark that defines you but the meaning you find in your mark, the path you decide to take with your mark and the life you shape around it. Marks ask us questions, give us responsibilities and create opportunities that require us to become more than we were before. This is no easy task and it’s a daily challenge to find meaning in an event you often wish hadn’t happened, but this is the exact path tread by anybody who has made a change in the world, all of whom decided that their mark made them better than they were before, gave their life new meaning and new dreams.

I made that decision slowly, incrementally through much struggle but with an equal measure of support. One day I realized that instead of taking from me, the cancer had given my life another dimension, a new depth allowing me to understand much more than I had before. It informed who I was; a person who had survived 8 rounds of chemo and won a battle against a merciless enemy intent on taking her life. I wasn’t a survivor. I was a winner. I wasn’t marked, I was chosen. I wasn’t tainted, I was touched. It took five years to be able to write this – a piece that the old me would never have been able to pen and probably wouldn’t have bothered to read.

-Maryam Manteghi

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