I shuffled into the locker room at our local gym a few days ago, searching for an open locker to dump my bags in before heading upstairs to a treadmill. There’s no shortage of women changing in the locker room, and as I found a pod of lockers that were mostly unused, I walked past an older woman who was bending over to change. Without intending to, I saw down her shirt. And what I saw surprised me.
She was missing her right breast. Even at a glance, I could see the scar; there was a shell of padding filling that side of her bra. And I knew, in half of a second, that this woman had undergone breast cancer and had needed a mastectomy to remove cancerous tissue. My grandmother underwent a mastectomy; I remember hearing her talk about her expensive bra that was filled on one side with padding rather than her own flesh.
And in that locker room, I realized that this woman changing next to me had walked through the pain and the fear of cancer. She had needed her flesh cut off and sewn up. She had been delivered news that brought nothing but hardship and had been given a diagnosis that could have ended in death. And she had not only survived, but she was here at the gym, using her miraculous body that lived through that cancer to swim and move and work.
This courageous, strong, wrinkled woman next to me was a warrior.
She had lived. She had won. And nobody else knew that under that padded bra was a woman with more fortitude than fear.
Before I left the locker room, another woman stood in front of the mirror and began blow-drying her hair. She was wearing a bra, but no shirt, and underwear, but no pants. Unselfconsciously, she stood and dried her hair as other women walked in and out. And I noticed a long, thin scar on her lower abdomen. I know that scar; I bear one myself. My daughter was pulled through that cut in my stomach when she would not come out otherwise. Whether this woman with the blow dryer had one child or many pulled out of her, I do not know. But she will carry that scar forever.
This confident, mighty, toned woman next to me was a warrior.
She was a mother. She had birthed life, made room in herself for another. And nobody else knew that under her shirt was a woman who, like all mothers, has made sacrifices too numerous to count.
I sat down on a bench, suddenly overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the women around me. These were survivors I was walking among—saints, heroes, lovers. Women who share in this sisterhood of scar-bearing.
We all bear scars. Mine is 6 inches across, snow white, a thin line of remembrance an inch below my hip bone. But I have others, scars less visable. Scars where pain has been seared over by love, or by time, or by prayer.
Several days a week, I stand in that locker room and don’t think about the other women around me. I see them peripherally, changing their clothes and doing their hair. They probably see me in the same way. But here, in this locker room, I had been given a glimpse of the scars that each of us carry. Whether from breast cancer or c-sections, whether from broken hearts or anxious minds—we bear the scars of being women, and of living in a shattered world. Most of us can hide them under bras and shirts and acceptable words. But we are, all of us, warriors.
Those who have survived. Those who are living. Those who are mothers, sisters, wives, and friends.
Those scars do not define us. They have marked us, yes. But they can remind us that we have more fortitude than fear, and that we can make room in our bodies and our hearts for life to be birthed. In fact, we can be proud of our scars: being a scar-bearer points us to the truth that scars can be signs of life—even of love.