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finding myself

Guest Posts, cancer, Starting Over

27 Stitches

July 27, 2021

by Lauren Gobell

I got skin cancer for the first time when I was 28. Basal cell carcinoma, right temple, one freeze and burn surgery required. I’ll wear lots of sunscreen, and this won’t happen again. This is my health scare, and now it’s done, I reassured myself. But a year later, at twenty-nine, my white scar that I was painfully self-conscious of became suspiciously pink around the edges. My insides churned in that way that only happens when you know something bigger than you is brewing beneath the surface.

By then, I was four-and-a-half years into my marriage, and it’d been touch and go the entire time. After the diagnosis, I brought my then-husband to a consultation, so a doctor could explain that “basal” is not to be confused with “benign.” This was in fact, cancer, and therefore, it needed to be removed for medical reasons. After confirmation from a medical professional, my then-husband felt reassured that I was not just being dramatic about the whole skin cancer bit. By the time my surgery came in December, we’d separated, but I knew we were most likely headed for a divorce.

Prior to my surgery, I noticed another spot on my center forehead, near the hairline. I call this a, “For Fuck’s Sake” moment. As humans, we’re  all guaranteed 2-3 “For Fuck’s Sake” moments in our lifetime. These are the moments that bring us to our knees. They sometimes make us more resilient in the long run, but, let me abundantly clear, the interim period is extremely unpleasant, and if not handled properly, can really get the better of you.

Two weeks later, that biopsy from my For Fuck’s Sake moment came back positive as well. My one surgery in December would now be a “two for one” surgery. I spent hours bracing for impact before the operation. I scoured the internet for pictures of MOHs surgeries, telling myself it would make it easier post surgery to deal with my own recovery.

I was mistaken.

On December 15, 2016, I had an eight-hour surgery to remove both basal cells which left me with two facial scars. There were twenty-seven external stitches total, and I simply didn’t recognize myself every time I accidentally caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The pale, terrified, stitched-together girl that gazed warily back at me seemed like an imposter. How could this be my life? How did this happen? It was the first time I’ve ever truly felt unlovable, and that feeling lingered for longer than I care to admit.

I wish I could tell you that going through skin cancer quickly made me realize I was a badass. I wish I could tell you that when I caught people looking at my scars, I came back with some fabulous fictitious tale about a skiing excursion gone awry. I wish I could tell you that I left my toxic marriage right then and there.

But I didn’t feel like a badass; I felt broken. But I couldn’t make a clever joke; I was mortified by my own appearance. As women, we’re told by society both directly and indirectly to be hairless, poreless, blemishless. Most days, I was haunted by an inner voice that hissed,Who would ever want you now?”

Fortunately, as the months crept by, my scars went from bright red, to medium red, to an aggravated pink, and finally a subdued white.

And then, five months after my surgery, my husband did the smartest thing he could have possibly done.

He called me dumb.

He called me dumb one last time.

The specifics of that conversation don’t really matter. My hungover husband who had driven home blitzed the night before, who was so hung over we missed therapy with the Christian marriagie counselor he insisted on seeing, called me dumb because I refused to agree that the Hulu show we were watching at the time was “liberal propaganda.”

Dear reader, sometimes specifics do matter.

Because those lovely specifics converged at just the right moment and created a crescendo, a tidal wave of clarity if you will. And when that wave broke, it allowed me to have another “For Fuck’s Sake” moment when I needed it most.

Dear reader, my hungover, drove-home-drunk husband called me dumb, and suddenly everything within me realigned. All the nuts and bolts came together with a resounding internal click.

This was not, is not, could no longer be my life.

The beauty of a For Fuck’s Sake  moment is that it brings about clarity whiplash. Meaning, the truth comes at you so fast, you’re forced to examine it head-on. And since I’d just dealt with a FFS moments months earlier with my two-for-one basal cell diagnosis, I had a better inkling of how to handle a FFS this time around. That skin cancer FFS had been overwhelming, but this FFS ended up being the compelling kind.

The best way to handle an FFS moment is by taking action while doing everything possible to maintain your sense of humor. I had just handled double skin cancer surgery. Surely, I could handle divorce.

And so, I did it. I finally walked away from a dysfunctional nine-year relationship that frankly, never should have made it past a year. I found a mediator. I filed for divorce. And since I was a teacher at the time, my summer job became “Getting Divorced.”

It turns out, that if you have the luxury of making “Getting Divorced” your sole job, you can actually expedite the whole thing rather quickly. I made a “Getting Divorced” playlist. I did more cardio than most doctors would recommend in a fiscal quarter. I went through a brief, albeit dedicated, house music phase. Please be advised, A For Fuck’s Sake moment requires outside-the-box coping strategies. Green smoothies and an FFS don’t pair well.

Nine weeks after uttering the words, “I want a divorce,” I walked out of the courthouse with my marriage dissolved. Sometimes we have to leave.

I left a marriage having been brought up in a very strict, conservative household, having been told my whole life that nothing was more important, nothing was more sacred than marriage.

And yet, I was still able to rebuild my life. I was able to regain financial security and independence. I was able to make a career change. I was able to date and form healthyish, (just being honest, some things really take time) romantic relationships again. And so it turns out, there are things more important, more sacred than marriage. Self-worth being one of them.

27 stitches broke my soul, but they forced me to become whole.

Most days, I still wish skin cancer wasn’t part of my vocabulary, but in a strange way it saved me from myself. Because for fuck’s sake, it gave me my moment.

Please Note: In a bizarre twist of fate, I heard from my ex-husband a couple years after I walked out of that courthouse. He got skin cancer. Life is simultaneously strange and simple.

Lauren Gobell is a former middle school English teacher and now works for a digital media company. She is probably running, reading a thriller, or reapplying sunscreen.


Margaret Attwood swooned over The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl, but Enchanted is the novel that we keep going back to. The world of Enchanted is magical, mysterious, and perilous. The place itself is an old stone prison and the story is raw and beautiful. We are big fans of Rene Denfeld. Her advocacy and her creativity are inspiring. Check out our Rene Denfeld Archive.

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Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing With My Life.

February 11, 2015


Hello from London! Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by author Sukey Forbes.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Atlanta in a couple weeks followed by NYC! 

Dear Life,

I’m writing to you, whoever you may be, in hopes that you are in possession of a road map for life that I could borrow. A step-by-step list of directions for how to achieve a happy life: get this degree, live in this place, get this job, marry this person, have x number of kids, die happily on this day. Or maybe none of those things, I don’t know. I’m not saying that I have an unhappy life- that is not the case. In truth I have nothing to complain about. And I shouldn’t complain anyway because as Teddy Roosevelt said, “complaining about something without offering a solution is called whining”, or something like that. I live in Barcelona, an amazing city, I teach private English classes, which is a pretty painless job, and I spend much of my time with good people, drinking wine and enjoying the Spanish life. Doesn’t sound bad right?

My problem is that I left my life, job, friends and family in America behind six months ago to come to Europe and “find myself” and now that my time here is almost half done, I find that I spend most of it in a constant state of anxiety that I haven’t really found myself at all, or that I haven’t found the right version of myself, or that I’ve actually just wasted a year of my life and all my money living illegally in a foreign country and achieving absolutely nothing. And that is my biggest fear. That my time here won’t mean anything, won’t have been the life-changing experience I thought it would be, and that when I go home, nothing will have changed.

All my friends and family say how proud they are of me for taking this risk and that they are so jealous of my life living in an amazing city in Europe and that this will be the best time of my life. But I’m scared that this isn’t the best time of my life, or that I’m trying to force it to be that. I feel like if I don’t come home having made some epiphany about my dream career, or with a new boyfriend, or some life-changing revelation about myself, that it will seem like I have failed in some way. And I don’t really feel that I can talk to my friends and family about what I’m going through because it will be like admitting that I can’t do it alone or that maybe this whole thing was a mistake.

I know in my heart that this is all wrong- that my time here is a life experience like everything else and that I should stop worrying about what it all means and just spend what little time I have here enjoying myself. But my head is hell-bent on worrying and obsessing and planning and all-in-all making my life full of anxiety and dread for the future.

I guess I kind of think of this year as my last hurrah as a “kid” before I go back to the real world, buckle down, get a big-girl job and start looking for someone to marry. But maybe that’s not what I want. Maybe I want to keep travelling, live in another country, work at a bar, date lots of people I have no intention of marrying, etc. Maybe I want to be Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and eat lots of spaghetti and then ride off into the sunset (literally) in Bali with a handsome Brazilian man. But is that realistic? I think maybe not.

I also can’t help but think how much farther I am falling behind my friends in the game of life. Every month I’m here “finding myself” they are getting promotions and raises, saving money, buying houses, becoming fiancées and wives and mothers. How do I stop comparing myself to everyone else and what other people have? I want to be content with my life and where I am and what I am doing, but I don’t know how to do it.

I’m sure I am not the only twenty-something in the history of the world to not know what they are doing with their life and I hope this letter reaches someone who may have had a similar experience and has some insight to offer. Or at the very least, a kind word of encouragement.

Thank you!



Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it!

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