Six brave souls reveal the body blemishes that serve as a reminder of their past

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Sharon O’Connor, 44, a postwoman, lives with her husband Kevin in Plymouth


Almost two decades after major surgery to correct a curvature of her spine, Princess Eugenie posted a picture of her scar online to encourage others to ‘share theirs with me. Let’s be proud of our scars!’ she said.

A scar is created by cells called fibroblasts which produce scar tissue in place of the original tissue, explains Dr Walayat Hussain, a consultant dermatologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. 

The fibroblasts churn out collagen, a substance that acts as ‘scaffolding’, enabling new tissue to grow. But these collagen fibres aren’t laid down in the neat lattice pattern of healthy skin, and so stand out. 

There may be a psychological impact, too. Every scar tells a story — and here, six people who were scarred reveal theirs…

Sharon O’Connor, 44, a postwoman, lives with her husband Kevin in Plymouth

I’m happy to show off my arms

Sharon O’Connor, 44, a postwoman, lives with her husband Kevin in Plymouth. They have three adult daughters.

When I was 14 months old, I pulled a pot of boiling tea over my right arm and neck. I don’t remember it, but Mum tells me she ripped off my BabyGro and my skin came off with it. I was on the hospital burns unit for eight weeks.

While the splashes on my face healed within days, the scald on my arm required a skin graft, taken from my inner thigh, followed by regular check-ups until I was 15.

Growing up with such a big scar — around 40 per cent of my arm is affected — I was often self-conscious about it; if I went swimming, I’d wear a T-shirt. But after having the girls, I became less self-conscious, and now it doesn’t bother me at all.

The top part of the scar is quite tight when I raise my arm. My surgeon has said if I want another skin graft I can have one, but the skin tone might not match.

I’m now happy to wear vest tops. While it’s a reminder of what can happen with boiling water, it hasn’t made me over-cautious. 

Expert comment: Dr Justine Hextall, a dermatologist with Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says: ‘With a scald or a burn, the extent of the scar will depend on whether the scald went through just the top epidermis layer of skin, or to the bottom dermis layer, too. If it’s only gone through the epidermis, new skin will grow in its place. But if it reaches the dermis, there is a significant risk of a scar.

‘Scalds and burns heal from the base of the damage and the periphery. If the skin cells at the base have been destroyed, the wound will then heal slowly from the periphery causing the skin to contract.’

If it’s across a joint, this can cause problems.’

The top part of the scar is quite tight when I raise my arm. My surgeon has said if I want another skin graft I can have one, but the skin tone might not match. I’m now happy to wear vest tops

The top part of the scar is quite tight when I raise my arm. My surgeon has said if I want another skin graft I can have one, but the skin tone might not match. I’m now happy to wear vest tops

The pain felt like I had swallowed razor blades

Victoria Jenkins, 34, lives in London. She is a garment technologist and runs Unhidden, a fashion range for the disabled community

Victoria Jenkins, 34, lives in London. She is a garment technologist and runs Unhidden, a fashion range for the disabled community

Victoria Jenkins, 34, lives in London. She is a garment technologist and runs Unhidden, a fashion range for the disabled community.

I’ve suffered with intermittent stomach problems, such as bloating, since my early 20s. But whenever I saw a GP I’d be told it was probably irritable bowel syndrome and to just watch my diet.

But one day at work in 2012 I suddenly developed a sharp pain in my shoulder which spread to my stomach. It felt like I’d swallowed razor blades.

A few days later I went to hospital where they gave me a scan and, to my astonishment, I was told that I had a perforated ulcer in my small intestine. 

The ulcer had burst, and stomach acid was leaking out of my stomach into the surrounding area. It was burning me from the inside.

I was rushed into surgery to close the hole: stomach acid is so corrosive I was lucky it hadn’t damaged other organs.

I’d been warned before I went into theatre that I might wake up with a colostomy bag. The relief was overwhelming when I emerged to find this hadn’t happened. 

So, by comparison, discovering I had a 5 in scar with 24 staples in it from my sternum to my tummy button like an oversized zip was nothing.

I’ve had related health problems since — in 2015 I developed a diseased gall bladder which had to be removed by opening the top of my scar. 

The following year I had to have more surgery because my stomach wasn’t emptying properly, causing intense pain. The operations were done through the same scar, but thankfully it did seem to heal well each time.

I’d been warned before I went into theatre that I might wake up with a colostomy bag. The relief was overwhelming when I emerged to find this hadn’t happened. So, by comparison, discovering I had a 5 in scar with 24 staples in it from my sternum to my tummy button like an oversized zip was nothing

I’d been warned before I went into theatre that I might wake up with a colostomy bag. The relief was overwhelming when I emerged to find this hadn’t happened. So, by comparison, discovering I had a 5 in scar with 24 staples in it from my sternum to my tummy button like an oversized zip was nothing

I am registered disabled as I find it hard to walk because of my operations. Although the most important thing has been staying healthy, I used to feel self-conscious about my scar. Now, I regard it with a weird sense of pride: it’s a sign I’m looking forwards not backwards. 

Expert comment: Dr John Ashworth, a consultant dermatologist (dermatologist.co.uk), says: ‘Once a scar is over a year old, it’s unlikely to be improved by anything other than further surgery. But using a medical treatment, Haelan tape [the adhesive contains medication] can help. This is used for several weeks. The younger the scar the greater the chance of improvement. Another option is steroid injections to calm down inflammation.’

My high-speed bike crash

Andrew Humphrey, 60, who runs an engineering business, lives in Leicestershire with his wife Louise, 55 and their son Thomas, 12

Andrew Humphrey, 60, who runs an engineering business, lives in Leicestershire with his wife Louise, 55 and their son Thomas, 12.

I’ve been a cyclist for years but three years ago it went horribly wrong. I was in a group powering down a hill when my bike touched the wheel of the guy in front.

I crashed to the ground and broke my pelvis in three places as well as my collar bone. I had a 4½-hour operation to insert a stainless steel plate to secure the breaks in the pelvis. 

The entry point for the surgeon was twofold, so I was left with two scars. One is 5 in long and runs diagonally up my left side and the other is a 3 in horizontal scar across my stomach — I call it my caesarean section!

Within three months I was able to start using a static exercise bike (and do Pilates, as my wife runs Studio 44 Pilates).

I’d ordered a new road bike just before the crash happened and I remembered saying from my hospital bed that I didn’t want to keep it. But thanks to determination, lots of physio, Pilates and my love of cycling, I am now back on the road. 

Expert comment: Dr Ashworth says: ‘A big issue with an accident involving falling on a road, like this, is that foreign bodies in the wound, such as gravel, are bad for healing and scars since they can cause infection. Which is why it’s always important, even with minor grazes, to clean them properly.’

The entry point for the surgeon was twofold, so I was left with two scars. One is 5 in long and runs diagonally up my left side and the other is a 3 in horizontal scar across my stomach — I call it my caesarean section!

Teasing at school made me cry

Jess Stalley, 25, is a tech consultant who is from Cambridgeshire.

When I was about 13, my family would nag me about slouching like a typical teenager. But when I tried to sit straight it was painful.

Jess Stalley, 25, is a tech consultant who is from Cambridgeshire

Jess Stalley, 25, is a tech consultant who is from Cambridgeshire

An X-ray showed that my spine at the top was bent at a 45-degree angle.

I was diagnosed with Scheuermann’s kyphosis, where the vertebrae form in a triangular rather than a rectangular shape.

My nickname at school was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which made me cry.

It was probably more noticeable because I was a competitive swimmer and always in a swimsuit.

At first, the specialist suggested I should wear a back brace day and night. But a couple of months later, another scan revealed that my spine had now curved by 90 degrees. I knew it was getting worse, as the brace was becoming more uncomfortable and I was in more pain.

In 2009 I had spinal fusion surgery to prevent any more bending, as it could have affected my lung capacity. Several of my vertebrae were fused together with titanium rods.

Then, in 2012, the disc below my last fused vertebrae collapsed, so I had another operation to extend the fusion. The scar is about 18 in long.

I also have an 8 in scar under my left arm and a 3½ in one above my left hip, where they inserted a metal cage to replace the collapsed disc.

But my spine is now completely straight and I always get comments about how great my posture is.

My scars are very neat, and provided I don’t have a suntan — because the scars stay pale — they are not that noticeable. When I was younger I was very self-conscious of the scarring, purely because of the previous bullying. But I grew in confidence, and by the time of my school leavers’ party, I even wore a backless dress.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my scars. 

Expert comment: Dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall says: ‘Cutting through the skin removes the layer of melanocytes — cells that produce pigment. With time, melanocytes migrate from surrounding skin to a scar, and one common issue with scars is that they have too little or too much pigmentation.

‘Silica gel is the most effective topical treatment for scar-healing — keeping the wound hydrated reduces the body’s signalling for more collagen formation.

‘I always advise patients that it can take a year to 18 months for a scar to heal properly.’

I didn’t know men get breast cancer

Roy Collins, 66, a police community support officer, lives in East Sussex with his wife Tessa, 65, a nurse

Roy Collins, 66, a police community support officer, lives in East Sussex with his wife Tessa, 65, a nurse.

I had no idea breast cancer could affect men until my diagnosis in 2011. In fact, I now know it kills proportionally far more men than women — more than 80 a year (of 300-400 diagnosed).

It was only thanks to my wife’s presence of mind that I didn’t become one of those fatalities. One day, Tessa saw me just after I’d got out of the shower and noticed my right nipple was inverted. 

Without telling me why, she said I must get it checked out and arranged for me to see the GP the next day. I was then referred to hospital, where scans and a biopsy detected a malignant 6 cm tumour that had spread to my lymph nodes. 

A few days later I had a mastectomy and lymph nodes on that side removed.

After the surgery, even though all the cancer had been removed, I had to steel myself for 18 weeks of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy.

But afterwards, I wouldn’t take off my T‑shirt if the weather was warm.

Then, about three years after my diagnosis, we were on a boat trip in Tenerife and the skipper encouraged us to jump into the sea. A man with one leg got up and leapt in. I thought: ‘All I’ve got to worry about is this scar.’ So I took my top off and did the same.

Now I’ll happily show my scar off, as I want other men to be as lucky as me.

I had no idea breast cancer could affect men until my diagnosis in 2011. In fact, I now know it kills proportionally far more men than women — more than 80 a year (of 300-400 diagnosed)

I had no idea breast cancer could affect men until my diagnosis in 2011. In fact, I now know it kills proportionally far more men than women — more than 80 a year (of 300-400 diagnosed)

For information about the charity Walk the Walk and its ‘men get breast cancer too’ campaign, go to: walkthewalk.org 

Expert comment: Dr Ashworth says: ‘The healing of a mastectomy scar would be the same for a man as for a woman. The risk for either is that certain body sites are more prone to exaggerated scars called keloids — raised scars — particularly bony body areas, for example the breastbone or on top of the shoulder, possibly due to the lack of subcutaneous fat in these areas.’

What mattered was being alive

Shae Eccleston, 32, a creative consultant and author, lives in Dunstable.

Shae Eccleston, 32, a creative consultant and author, lives in Dunstable

The lump on the right side of my neck appeared without warning in August 2010. Pea‑sized and quite hard, it wasn’t painful, unless I turned my head sharply. 

In fact I would have ignored it had my mum not persuaded me to see the GP — who thought it was nothing. 

But I went back a week later — at the insistence of my aunt, a nurse — and was referred to hospital.

I was told the only way to get a conclusive result was to operate. I thought: ‘How bad can it be?’

I couldn’t have got it more wrong. The surgery lasted nine hours as doctors discovered a large malignant tumour.

To remove it they had to cut from behind my ear right down my neck and under my chin. When I finally looked in the mirror three days later I was horrified: I had this huge bright red scar curling from my ear down my neck, and my face had drooped where the nerves had been damaged.

I could have gone to pieces. But the specialist later explained that I had an aggressive form of cancer which could have killed me within three months. After that, worries about my appearance vanished. I was just glad to be alive.

Two years later, just as I was starting to feel better, I was horrified to feel another swelling in the same place. I had a four-hour operation through the same scar — It was cancer again.

It took until 2015 before I began to pull myself together. I threw myself into developing my business. I also found myself worrying less about my scar. I used to wear my hair down after the first operation but I stopped doing that. These days, if people ask about it, I say I had cancer — ‘had’, as in the past. The scar is proof that I’ve moved on. 

Expert comment: Dr Hextall explains: ‘A scar is only ever 80 per cent as strong as normal tissue and can be quite tough to cut through. But it’s common for surgeons to perform a new operation through an old scar. It means they won’t be giving the patient a second scar and they can often tidy up the old one.

Dr Ashworth adds: ‘The reason Shae still gets pain is that many important sensory nerves cross the neck and there may be nerve damage. Old scars like this can cause pain, but as time passes there should be improvement.’

Had transplant surgery through old scar 

Rachel Norcott, 32, a retail worker, lives in Suffolk and is engaged to Michael Weldon, 27, a loft conversion engineer.

‘A liver transplant saved my life when I was three after I contracted Hepatitis A – how I got it, nobody knows.

It left a scar that runs 19in across my stomach – it’s known as a Mercedes scar (because it’s the shape of the Mercedes logo) – and while physically, it didn’t bother me, psychologically, it was difficult to come to terms with. At school I was teased about it while getting changed for PE.

Then, when I was 26, I became constantly tired and my skin and eyes turned yellow. Doctors confirmed that, for reasons they couldn’t explain, my body was rejecting the liver after more than 20 years despite taking immunosuppressant drugs.

I had a second transplant in 2015 and assumed I’d have a second huge scar on my stomach. But when I woke up after the operation, the surgeon told me he’d simply cut into the old scar and operated through that.

When the bandages came off a week later, I was stunned to see a much neater, thinner scar than before. I’ve not used any creams or lotions on the scar and it’s healed well. I’m really proud of it.

I’d love to have children one day and doctors have said there is no reason why I can’t be pregnant and carry a baby – so that’s my dream.’

Expert comment: Dr Hextall says: ‘A Mercedes scar is associated with abdominal surgery and particularly liver transplants. A scar is only ever 80 per cent as strong as normal tissue and can be quite tough to cut through. 

‘But it’s common for surgeons to perform a new operation through an old scar. It means they won’t be giving the patient a second scar and they can often tidy up the old scar. 

‘She shouldn’t be worried about pregnancy. Although scars are less elastic than normal tissue and will always be an area of vulnerability, the skin is incredibly stretchy.’

Crash left me in a wheelchair for weeks 

Matt Cross, 25, is a PhD student at UCL. He lives in Hackney, East London with his partner, Jacky Clayton, 28, a geotechnical engineer.

‘Three years ago, I was on a cycling trip in the U.S. when a motorist drove into me. I was knocked unconscious. The next thing I knew I was in intensive care, with my head immobilised.

Although I had lots of terrible cuts, the only broken bone was my skull. I’d suffered bruising on my frontal lobes and a build-up of blood in the skull called an epidural haematoma. But because my left ear was bleeding, there was no pressure build-up and no need to operate. I was in hospital for over three weeks and it took 12 to 18 months before I felt ‘normal’.

My balance was particularly unstable at the beginning and I was wheelchair-bound for several weeks. I’ve permanently lost all hearing in my left ear and have no sense of smell. I’ve noticed I’ve become more emotional since too. I’ve an uncle who died in a motorcycle accident and when I visited his grave, I broke down. But now I focus on how fortunate I was.

One permanent reminder is the small scar on my eyebrow, noticeable because the hair refuses to grow back. I’m concerned that prospective employers might think I’ve had an eyebrow slit shaved – which isn’t me at all.

I want to keep my scar to remind myself how lucky I am and how important it is to wear a helmet. I wasn’t wearing one at the time.’

Expert comment: Dr Hextall says: ‘Any scar is a permanent reminder to the patient of what they’ve been through. I tell my (dermatology) students that it’s important to keep scars neat for this very reason. This is particularly true of facial scars, which can make people feel self-conscious.

‘In Matt’s case, the hair follicles have been damaged so the eyebrow hair cannot grow back. But it sounds like Matt has the right attitude.’



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