One Sharp Dame

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Valentine’s Day Massacre

Six months ago today, a team of surgeons cut off my breasts. It was Valentine’s Day. When one of my surgeons came to check on me in recovery, he brought me candy. It was Ritter’s dark chocolate bar with hazelnuts. My surgeon is perfect and looks like Paul Newman and is, of course, married. I remember giving reading recommendations to one of the recovery nurses whose son was doing a project on Greek mythology. I remember the pain. There was a discussion about how much more morphine they could give me and I recall one nurse  hissing ‘we don’t want to stop her goddamned heart’. Yeah, no, that would be bad. But at the time, if you had asked me what I wanted more, I would have said I wanted to stop hurting, if my heart needed to stop beating to accomplish this, fine with me.

If you make an effort, you would be surprised how long you can go without looking down. I didn’t look down for a week. I had absolutely not one bit of curiosity about what was going on below my neck. No desire to see the twin nine inch long gashes where my breasts used to be. No curiosity about the workings of the dohiggie expander things that had been whipstitched onto the muscle and epidermis of my chest to push things out and make room for new breasts.

When I did eventually get up the nerve to look down, well, I’m glad I did because if I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would have never believed it. I can’t believe we do this to our bodies and survive. Blood flow couldn’t be restored to part of dermis where my tumor had been and the flesh soon died. I watched it die. There was another surgery, more nipping and tucking, this time without general anesthesia to avoid having to admit me to the hospital. Then I waited and watched while that flesh died as well, necessitating another outpatient surgery.

And then there were the drains. Oh, the lovely drains. Three feet of plastic tubing, eighteen inches of which are swirled and twirled inside your chest cavity, the rest dangling out a small hole in your side and anchored by a small plastic bulb that looks something like a hand grenade and, over time, takes on the same sinister look. Because I am an overachiever, I had four drains, two on each side. I was disappointed the drains didn’t come in colors. With black tubes, I could have taken on the arachnoidal look of a Spider Man villain. Or glitter, that would have been fun. But the tubes have to be clear so you can see the color of the fluid seeping out of your body. Isn’t that fun?

I have a ways to go before I can start the reconstructive part of this. Weeks of radiation after the double mastectomy did quite a bit of damage to my skin and the healing process takes time. I can wait. I am remarkably sanguine on the subject of not having breasts. Not get me wrong, it is freaky as hell and has been duly desconstructed many times in endless therapy sessions but still. I don’t fall to pieces when I look in the mirror. I had this other body before. Now I have this body. In a few months, I’ll have a different body. In the continuum of things to drop your basket about, I’ve decided this isn’t basket-dropping material.

I’ll save the basket-dropping for when I have my first post-cancer date.


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  1. Kelly, you are one brave chick. Not just because of the whole cancer thing, because that’s a given. No, I think you are far braver for writing about it so candidly, putting it right out there. Your writing gives me chills. And you also remind me of my favorite Nora Ephron quote, from her book, ‘Heartburn’:

    “Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”
    So I told her why.
    Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
    Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
    Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
    Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”
    Nora Ephron, Heartburn (1983)

    Keep writing, Kelly. You have my utmost admiration.

  2. This reads like some of the best writing on Salon.

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