“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”-Mother Teresa
As the temperature begins to drop and winter approaches, going outside goes from being a pleasure to something we dread. Although I am not a fan of cold weather, dry skin and eyes, and constantly being freezing, I do love how the cool air causes the muscles in my face to twitch.This might seem a little odd to some but this is a feeling that I missed for so long.
After being overdosed with radiation when I was 7 years old to destroy my brain cancer, a million different things went wrong. I was no longer able to walk or function on my own but the one thing that was the most devastating to me was that I had lost total facial movement. I could no longer smile, frown, or even give someone a dirty look. My face stayed expressionless and my cheeks became puffy and full almost like chipmunk cheeks. As a result of this, I also drooled all the time, it was really lovely.
So fast forward a couple years later. I retaught myself to walk, was continuing to live my life one step at a time, and proving everyone wrong. I had overcome some difficult obstacles and although I should have been proud of my accomplishments, there was still one thing I wanted back, my smile.
To me, there was nothing worse than not being able to smile at someone. For years, my parents and I tried to find a doctor who could return facial movement to my face but we had no luck. I even underwent 2 “unsuccessful” facial surgeries which only resulted in my one shoulder becoming weaker than the other. (the doctor ended up cutting my shrugging muscle in half and put the muscle in my cheek)
In 2001, shortly after my dad’s death, I was referred to a facial surgeon in Canada who is well known for his surgery on those born with cleft palates and has given many their smiles back. Long story short, after undergoing 2 surgeries on each side, Dr. Zuker was able to restore facial movement to my face. After 4 years of having nothing, I was able to smile again!
However it was not an automatic change like I woke up from surgery and was smiling. It took about a year for the surgery to work completely and for my muscles to adjust. Even to this day, my smile isn’t perfect but it is better than not smiling at all and my cheekbones are slowly starting to became more apparent. I love just sitting somewhere and all of a sudden my face pulls or when I get really cold, I can feel my muscles twitch in my cheeks. After spending years without facial movement, I forgot what it felt like to smile or to have functioning muscles in my cheeks but now that I have movement back, it is one of the greatest feelings and not only changes how I look to others but also how I feel about myself. Having facial movement and my smile back helps me to be more confident in who I am. It enables me to stay positive. There are times when I just casually smile but then end up looking like a fool because I’m reminded of when I could not smile so as a result, it makes me beam with happiness. I used to think I would never smile again. It really is amazing how something as simple as a smile can change everything.
Getting my smile back was a life-changing experience. There is a fantastic organization, Operation Smile, that sends doctors, nurses, medical students, etc. all around the world to restore smiles to those with cleft palates and facial deformities. It is truly incredible what they do and how many lives they change. To those patients, a smile really is an action of love.
This week, I challenge you to smile more instead of taking it for granted. Even if you’re having a horrible day or feel awful, just try to fake a grin and make the first step towards a positive outlook. Or greeting everyone you meet with a smile, you never know how that simple smile could change their day.
As Mother Teresa also said “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do”