This sunny hot Saturday morning, while most people were taking it easy, sleeping in, watching cartoons, heading to the pool, a round of golf, a day of shopping or mowing their lawns, OJ, H and I drove to a follow-up appointment with the surgeon.
Wearing a sleeveless sundress instead of operating scrubs, Dr. H. could have easily been mistaken for a woman meeting friends for lunch. Instead, she greeted us at the door of the still-darkened and empty lobby, and led us into an examination room. OJ sat on a cushioned chair in the middle, H and I on either side.
Dr H. explained the procedure, how she was going to remove the body wrap bandages covering the sutures and incisions. OJ sat with eyes closed, trying to focus on her breath, as H held one hand and I the other. A palpable anxiety wafted through the room nearly causing me to bolt out the door. But Dr. H. calmly talked us through her paces, snipping through gauze and ace wraps, removing them from the backside first, then peeling away the front layers.
Awhile back, when I first learned of the stages involved in mastectomy and reconstruction, the initial picture I’d conjured up was influenced by the only images I’d seen long ago of women who’d undergone mastectomies – so I expected the worst: a flat wall of skin, right up against the chest wall, two horizontal stitched incisions holding a woman’s breast-less skin together. Instead, once Dr H was done with OJ, I was surprised and relieved to see more; there were also two small, only slightly misshapen mounds – as if the two (female) surgeons had decided to spare her the ignominy of nothingness where once there were breasts.
Early this morning, as I lay between sleep and wakefulness, I attempted to instill a sense of peaceful acceptance inside of me for what lay ahead. I knew I needed to retain my strength and composure for OJ’s sake. So, building on her other surgeon’s observation last month – that OJ has very busy breasts – I re-framed the story that led us to today:
By sheer happenstance (and not because of any wrongdoing or wrong-living), OJ’s breast had been stealthily assaulted by a posse of incorrigible cancer cells. Like a toxin, origin unknown, permeating a source of nature (say, a water-well), or a field of flowers infested by a freak frost, an errant gene had wreaked havoc in OJ’s breast lobules, triggering an inter-cellular tornado.
As a result, her breasts were required to undergo detoxification; an anti-carcinomic cleanse done by surgically removing affected tissue. And like a plot of ground, damaged and re-fertilized, it was only a matter of time before a garden would grow again. With all the love, tender care and attention needed to heal her traumatized and tentative breasts back to life.