My story as a burn survivor began when I was three years old. I was playing in the kitchen of my home in Iran and flipped a pan of hot oil onto my scalp, face, shoulder and arm. Before the age of six, I underwent five surgeries. At that point, the doctors advised to pause further surgery until I grew older. I grew into adulthood, however, without ever resuming treatment.
This was not a conscious decision. I had a loving, supportive family, and the belief was that the best approach for my well-being was to treat me like every other child as if the accident hadn’t happened. In my grade eight class, there was another burn survivor. We never once spoke to each other about our experience.
I convinced myself that I was fine and I kept extremely busy. Inspired by my love of science, I worked hard in my studies and was the first one in my family to attend a post-graduate program. In order to attend graduate school in North America, I needed to understand more English than the rudimentary vocabulary I had been taught, so I became proficient in English through self-teaching.
Throughout these years, however, I had many painful emotions as a burn survivor. Encountering people’s stares, judgement and at times fear, was exhausting and difficult but I never shared those emotions with even my family and best friends.
And then, in January of 2019, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across the personal story of a burn survivor. For the next five days, I was unable to work as I listened to and read story after story of other burn survivors, people whose experiences and feelings were similar to mine. After 27 years, I no longer felt alone.
That experience transformed the way I see myself and the quality of my life. Now I believe that rather than ignoring my difference, I need to embrace it.
Difficult as it can be to live with my scars, they have shaped my personality. Because I am determined to be seen as more than my visible difference, my scars have helped to fuel my ambition and work ethic. I am now working towards my Ph.D. in astrophysics. Because I can relate to the struggles of others, my scars have helped to make me a good listener, a positive person, and a helpful friend.
I believe now that I didn’t just endure the trauma I experienced – I came out strong and victorious and I am proud of it. I believe our scars make us unique and stronger. By sharing my story, I want to help others with a facial difference believe the same about their own story.
I am a warrior. I am following my dreams. I love who I am today.