“I get people looking, but I feel proud” – Shell's story
Shell Williams found that revealing her heart surgery scar in a fundraising calendar helped her to come to terms with it.
Direct confrontation and a unique personal project helped Shell Williams, 26, come to terms with her scar. “I was really scared,” she says. “I’ve got two kids and I was working at the time; it changed my whole life. I thought about the scar and how people would react if they saw it.”
She decided to do research and began talking to people, via Facebook, who had already had similar surgeries. “So many people were ashamed of their scar,” Shell says. “I thought there should be no reason why, after going through something so tough, you should feel embarrassed about something that marks you as a survivor.
“Just before I went in for my surgery, I opened up my own page on Facebook. It’s a place where everybody can show off their scars. I’ve had so many people share theirs for the first time; it’s been amazing.”
After an overwhelming response, Shell had an idea. She wanted to create a calendar with beautiful photography that would show people of all ages baring their scars.
“Within two weeks of coming out of hospital, I had managed to find quite a few models,” says Shell. “People seemed really interested and wanted to be involved. It took off really fast.”
Shell organised every element of the calendar. She’s training to be a make-up artist and put her skills to use on the photoshoots.
Having my scar out and seeing the reaction of people really did help me feel more confident
The 2016 calendar is now finished. It features Chanel Murrish, who entered the record books for having open heart surgery minutes after being born, a 15-year-old boy who loves parkour (a sport involving urban acrobatics) despite having had several surgeries, and many other brave survivors.
“Up until I got the news that I was going to have surgery, I didn’t realise that so many people go through this every day and have these scars,” says Shell.
After her operation, Shell developed atrial fibrillation, which made recovery trickier. But talking to her new online friends helped her deal with the emotional side of the surgery.
“I started to feel quite down,” she says. “I decided to talk to people and focus on the calendar as much as I could. I spoke to so many people whose scars were worse than mine, or they’d had more surgeries. Seeing how they coped with it, how confident they were, really changed how I felt.”
Shell praises her NHS treatment before and after surgery, and enjoyed meeting people at cardiac rehab. However, she believes a patient network could be helpful, especially for young people. “There could be more done for the emotional impact,” she says. “It’s not something people really think about.”
Shell found revealing her own scar in the calendar helped her emotional recovery. “I had my photoshoot a month after surgery,” she says.
“Having my scar out and seeing the reaction of people really did help me feel more confident. I do get people looking at it and noticing it, but I feel quite proud of it.”
We found our outfits and accessories in BHF shops:
- Strapless cocktail dress, Coast, £24.99
- Patent shoes, River Island, £7.99
- Chunky bracelet, £0.99.
Monsoon dress, £19.99.
Research: The cost of Shell’s outfits would pay for one assay kit, which helps researchers analyse blood and tissue samples. Find your local shop.