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Over the last few weeks and months, I have come to the realization of just how little I can hide my cancer. I mean I am proud of my ‘battle scar,’ most of the time, but some days, I just want to be me. I don’t want to be known as a cancer patient. Especially on special occasions and sometimes even everyday occurrences.

When patients are diagnosed with other cancers, such as breast cancer or leukemia, once they are in remission or at least stable, the outward signs are semi-easy to hide. Between things like implants, wigs, and makeup, most people wouldn’t be able to pick a cancer patient out of a crowd. 

Please don’t get me wrong, there are still many outward signs of cancer for most cancer survivors. However, cancers like breast cancer have much more funding and more research. That means most of the time the support for patients is greater than the support available for something rare like my medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). They are also in areas that are more hidden with everyday items, such as clothing. 

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With MTC, the only way to hide my outward signs of treatment is by wearing an extra high turtleneck. When you look at turtlenecks, they don’t suit everyone’s type though, which is the case for me. I also just don’t feel super comfortable in them. 

My surgical scar reaches from one ear all the way to my other ear. That in and of itself is hard to hide. While going through radiation treatments, I developed what looked like the worst sunburn of my life. During the time of radiation, I covered up with a scarf, even at the height of summer. It helped that I was always cold, which has now changed. The thought alone of wearing a scarf daily makes me sweaty. 

Christine Pudel is pictured here showing the “ear-to-ear” surgical scar and radiation burns from her treatment for MTC. Credit: Christine Pudel

Although even with a scarf it was hard to cover up the entirety of the radiation field. I attempted to cover the area from sunlight to avoid even more damage to my skin. 

Read about experimental therapies for MTC

It has now been almost 5 years since my last treatments. As a reminder, I had 2 surgeries and 30 radiation treatments in the span of 13 months. Since then, I have been mostly stable. At least stable enough to not need any active treatments. 

At first, after surgery, my scar had healed very nicely. For the first few years, even the radiation burn healed very well. My scar was rarely noted by others who didn’t know about my cancer diagnosis before taking a closer look at my neck. 

Lately, maybe the last year or two, I have been asked more than once how I got the rash on my neck. I have developed what looks like spider veins or burst capillaries all around the treatment area.  It ebbs and flows in redness, but it is always noticeable. 

Add that to the change to my right shoulder anatomy and the cancer traces are really not hideable. I have lost a majority of my trapezius due to atrophy. Other muscles in the area are needing to take over the role of the trapezius. That means that they look different, some are more defined, and some are tenser. All of that is quite easily visible. 

I am open with my cancer journey. I have shared much of it on my blog, through personal conversations and columns here. However, sometimes the question about what happened to my neck catches me by surprise. My words come much easier in writing form than in spoken form. I often stumble as I am trying to explain it to people, which often makes the situation slightly awkward. 

I don’t mind sharing my story. I don’t even mind the questions. Sometimes I wish I could just be me again. I wish I could just be Christine.