5 People On How They Found Strength in Their Scars

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Everyone has a different relationship with their scars. While some people see theirs as a story to be told, or a badge of honor—others want to keep theirs a secret. Wearing your scars proudly takes courage and it can be a journey. We chatted with five people who have worked to find the beauty and strength in their scars.

Cristina Beltran, Co-founder and CEO of ESTAS and cardiac arrest survivor

On how she got her scar…

“When I was 24, I went into sudden cardiac arrest and fell into a coma. My family was told I had a seven percent chance of survival. Thanks to my incredible doctors, family and friends, I survived. The following year, I continued to have heart incidents. I was rushed in and out of the hospital a number of times, having six stents placed in all. During my last stent procedure, my doctors realized the only way to keep me alive was to perform triple bypass open-heart surgery. Hence, the six-inch scar down my chest.”

On how she felt about her scar at first…

“When I was told I’d need open-heart surgery, the first thing I asked was, ‘Am I going to have a scar?’ I was so worried that I would have a permanent mark that showed the world that I was sick, that something was wrong with me. I was scared of being ‘that girl with the scar.’”

On how she feels about her scar now…

“Today, I’m very proud of my scar. I wear it like a badge of honor and feel a connection anytime I see somebody else with the same one, or any scar for that matter. It’s part of my story, a reminder of what I’ve been through and the strength it took to survive. I will forever be grateful for my scar, it’s the reason I’m alive today.”

On how her scar inspired her business…

“When it came time to care for my scar, I was frustrated with the lack of luxury skin-care products dedicated to scarcare. [My scar] was part of the inspiration behind ESTAS, which stands for Every Scar Tells A Story—my line of luxury skin-care products for scars, rooted in the belief that scars should be cared for and celebrated. I started it with my friend and business partner, Alejandra Thompson, who also has a number of scars. 

I find the beauty and strength in my scar during my scar-care routine. That’s why ESTAS is so important to me. Alejandra and I want anyone who uses ESTAS to get the visible and emotional benefits of using our products. In caring for your scar, you can create a relationship with it, start to feel more comfortable with it and hopefully even learn to see the beauty in it. I also think sharing your story helps a lot too.”

Jen Rozenbaum, boudoir photographer, breast cancer survivor and oophorectomy patient

On how she got her scars…

“In 2017 I was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, which is breast cancer, and I had a bilateral mastectomy. I’ve had four reconstruction surgeries and I also had my ovaries removed recently so I have scars from all of it.”

On how she felt when she first saw her scars…

“The first day I had my breasts removed I asked my doctor, ‘Can you take a picture?’ She said, ‘Are you sure you want to see it? Are you ready?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ But I wanted to at least have the option. So she took a picture, and I looked at it, and she was kind of waiting for my response. And I said to her, ‘it’s so badass.’ And she was like, ‘oh, that’s not a response we hear every day.’ I’ve always had a really good relationship with my scars from day one. I feel like they are not a reminder of the trauma but a reminder of strength.”

On how she feels about her scars now…

“I had some prior surgeries in my life as well. I had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured. I’ve had some traumatic things happen to me prior. I guess I’ve always kind of admired other people’s scars. So whenever I had surgery that gave me scars, I never looked at it as something that was ugly. I always kind of saw it as personality or, you know, storytelling, so it didn’t really bother me. I was actually really proud of my scars. I wish I didn’t have to cover them up all the time because I think that it’s so interesting. 

I’m a boudoir photographer, so I’ve seen a lot of people’s bodies. I have an expression: ‘Shed your clothes, shed your inhibitions.’ Between everybody, there’s this layer of clothing, right? That really hides so much of our story, and I just wish I could show my scars because it’s just a point of interest, and it connects people when you start talking about ‘oh, how did that happen?’ Or, ‘wow, that’s a cool scar. What’s the story behind that scar?’

Voluntarily going to the hospital and saying, ‘Please cut my breasts off’ is the hardest thing that you can do, so for me in my life, whenever I’m faced with something difficult, all I need to do is look down and see my scars and go, ‘Oh, I’ve done hard things. I can do this too.’”

Gillian Stollwerk Garrett, founder of Gilly’s Organics and skin cancer survivor

On how she got her scar…

“I had this pore that was bleeding—it was very, very small. It looked as if I had popped a whitehead, and it was just a little bit bloody but nothing crazy. It was not healing. I finally went to the dermatologist, and they took a little biopsy. They were like, ‘Hey, listen, it’s basal cell carcinoma. Don’t worry. It’s not that dangerous. You just have to get it removed.’ I say ‘great, no problem’ not knowing.

They tell me to go to the Mohs surgeon, so I go thinking that’s what I have to do. I have no clue what’s coming next because this thing was so small. I’m thinking they’re going to take like a half of a pencil eraser off of my face because it was the tiniest biopsy. They took literally a silver dollar. I was devastated. I was wearing a patch on my face. I was in pain. If you look at those pictures of day one, day two, anyone would be miserable if you saw the way my face was sewn up. 

It was traumatic. It’s part of what my face looks like now. I still look the same, essentially. If you didn’t know me you wouldn’t be like, ‘oh the girl with the scar on her cheek,’ but if you knew me before, you might notice it. It’s really not a lot, especially if I wear makeup, but because it’s avoidable, I’ve become an advocate, not only for Dr. Markowitz but for alternatives to Mohs.”

On how she felt about her scar at first…

“There was a lot of time where I looked at it, and I got really sad. It got better. I did all the things they said to do, like massage it, press on it and put silicone on. But when I first looked at it, I definitely was traumatized. I was almost annoyed at myself that I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

On how she feels about her scar now…

“I still feel that I’m beautiful. I don’t feel like it’s made me ugly or scary,  but I wish I had my old cheek back. It’s become part of my brand now. I don’t look at it the same way. It took some time to look at the scar and think, ‘my scar is beautiful.’ It took work.

I was working with a coach at the time because I had a business coach and part of her work is healing work. She made me meditate on healing the scar and sending it love. I grew over time to love my face again. It was highly traumatic, and now it’s no longer traumatic, and I’ve been able to look at it as like, yeah, it’s part of who I am, and I love it. I’m not entirely in love with it, but do still look in the mirror and go, ‘Oh, you look great.’”

On the silver lining…

“There’s a silver lining always to everything. I have an organic skin-care line now. For the first 35 years of my life, I was a sun worshiper and Eastern European and [skin cancer] is common in my family. So my message is ‘You really have to know your history. You have to take care of your skin. You have to get checked out. You have to use sunscreen,’ things that I never did. I’m now part of an advocacy.

I feel that it’s part of my brand now to talk about it and be open about it. That vulnerability has helped a lot of people. They write me, and they say, ‘oh my god, thank you so much. I went to Dr. Markowitz, and all she did was zap me, and she saved my nose.’ It makes me feel so good.”

Jason Fazio, former firefighter and burn scar survivor

On his recovery…

“I had lost an ear on my left side, it got burnt off, and Dr. Assadi reconstructed it. Then he started doing a laser on my arms and back to loosen up the scar tissue. The laser regenerates the skin and smooths out the scars. I’ve been going to him for over eight or nine years already. He also did some fat grafting—they take some fat and inject the scars to loosen them up. The scar bands are severe. The fat grafting was done on my arms. I finally have a normal ear that he had reconstructed from using my own skin, and it really came out good. He’s really been my angel through this whole process. It’s the longest recovery. I’m still going to laser once a month with the machine because your skin is always growing and tightens up, and when he lasers my skin it loosens it up, and it helps the curing process.

I was 47% burned all over my body, third degree. Every month I go, and I feel so much better when I leave there. I have graphs on my head. He assigned me to a place that’s like a hair club for men to cover my scars. So I got hair just to protect it. He did eyebrow plugs on my eyebrows because my eyebrows were burnt off, and he had a little bit of hair that he had found on the bottom of the back of my head that he regenerated just so I can look somewhat normal going through life.”

On being a burn survivor…

“When you’re a burn survivor, you’re in a league of your own. It’s up to you how you take care of yourself. I’m energetic, and I’ve really come through a dark time in my life. I have a great attitude. I’m positive.”

On how he feels about his scars now…

“They’ve smoothed out over the years with treatment. I’m not self-conscious anymore.”

Jason’s wife, Barbra, on his journey…

“Jason was in a coma for three months and then inpatient rehab for another three. A few people were referred to Jason to talk to them about his recovery because he’s one of the most positive people who’s survived something like this. His humor didn’t change. His personality didn’t change. He doesn’t have heavy bouts of depression. He has his moments, but he’s also one of the few burn survivors that’s not medicated, doesn’t take painkillers, doesn’t take anti-depressants. He is really somebody to look up to if you have to survive something as horrific as burns, especially on your face, your hands, your arm, your head, your eyelids. But Jason is very humble about it.

Family support is important. But I don’t treat him differently. There are no excuses. It helps normalize the person again and the situation. There’s no walking on eggshells or tiptoeing around. Does he have certain limitations? Yes,  but in general, now he can walk, talk and breathe and see, thank God.”

Heather Nagle Johnson, skin cancer survivor

On how she got her scar…

“I had a small mole removed, and it unexpectedly turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. I then had to go to a Mohs surgeon who removed more skin to make sure that all the basal cell was gone. I was left with about a dime-sized hole in my chin. I went to Dr. Preminger to close it. In order for it to heal well and not change the shape of my lip, she ended up cutting a pizza wedge out and then sewing it up, which left me with a scar through my lip and down to my chin.”

On how she feels about her scar now…

“I feel more thankful now when I look at my scar. It represents successful cancer removal. I really forget about it most of the time. My kids are still interested in it and still ask me if it hurts and want to know about it. I think it was probably somewhat traumatic for them as well to see me after I first came home.”

On finding beauty in her scar…

“When I look at the scar, I’m first thankful that it has healed well,  that I had an amazing doctor, and that I’m healthy. It reminds me how lucky I am to have had all the resources I needed to heal well—doctors, supportive family and friends and a job that allowed me to take some time off.”

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