“The scar is part of the life I’ve lived” – Valerie's story

At first, Valerie Johnson couldn't bear to look in the mirror because of the scar from her heart bypass surgery. But emotional support from her family and a new partner helped her to come to terms with it.

Valerie Johnson showing her scar proudly 

“You’re being torn in two,” says Valerie Johnson, 61. “You’ve had this wonderful surgery, which has perhaps saved your life, and yet you’re stressing because you feel unhappy over something as minor as a scar.”

Valerie, from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, had a heart attack in 2004 and stents fitted in 2005. When her angina began to advance in 2013, it became clear she would have to undergo bypass surgery.

“I’m a very proactive patient,” says Valerie, who works at a GP surgery handling IT and data. “I went down to intensive care to have a look and I knew everything that was going to happen. But the chest scar never really impacted on my consciousness.”

Immediately after surgery, pain and tiredness were the biggest issues. But as Valerie started to heal, she felt she’d lost her confidence.

“I hated my scar. It was this awful fissure down my front,” she says. “I knew it was necessary and I was grateful to be alive, but I couldn’t bear to look at it in the mirror.

“I didn’t have a partner at the time, but I dreaded being intimate with anybody and exposing my scar. It affected my thoughts of myself as feminine and as a woman.”

Like Michelle, Valerie experienced keloid scarring and was given steroid tape to help. Having never been body conscious, Valerie was shocked at how her scar made her feel.

“I had my 60th birthday in March 2014 and I went to Center Parcs with the family,” Valerie says. “They went off swimming and I couldn’t bear to go. I just sat by the pool crying because I didn’t want to expose my chest.” Valerie’s family were very supportive.

Eventually, she entered the pool and no one stared, but she wore high-necked outfits for the whole summer. As the months passed, she began to accept the scar. A big turning point was entering a new relationship.

“He said to me, if it wasn’t for the scar, there wouldn’t be a me. That was so emotionally supportive,” Valerie explains. “I began to see that. It was the key to getting my head around the whole thing.

“We all collect scars as we go through life, some emotional, some physical; to me the bypass is both in a huge way, but I’m here and I’m alive. I’ve been to dark places, but I’m still a desirable, attractive woman and the scar is part of the life I’ve lived.”

We found our outfits and accessories in BHF shops:

Valerie Johnson modelling a BHF shop style 

Valerie wears:

  • Blue silk dress and bolero shrug, Fenn Wright Manson, £39.99
  • Court shoes, Uterqüe, £16.99

Research: The cost of this outfit (£56.98) could help fund a PhD student. Find your local shop.

Valerie Johnson modelling a BHF shop style

Debenhams dress, £14.99

Research: The cost of this outfit (£14.99) could buy 15 sterile plastic flasks, used by our researchers to grow cells in culture. Find your local shop.

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