Breastless and Breathless

Do you remember?
“Flatsies, Flatsies, they’re flat and that’s that… and THAT’S THAT!

The deed is done. I have joined the ranks of the breastless. There is a kind of wonder that catches my breath in looking at myself in the mirror, Frankensteinian stitches horizontal instead of vertical, stretching from sternum to under both arms (remember the oxter?). Bruises from wayfaring blood during surgery. The plastic tubes of drains, with a watering-hose-like blue stripe to keep you from letting them twist, exiting through a hole in my living skin leading to bulbs the look and shape of grenades. After “milking” the tubes (think of getting the last of the honey out of a honey stick, or since we are in Vermont, the last of the maple syrup), I empty the grenades of their bloody contents at 8 a.m., noon, and bedtime as the directions direct measuring their quantity (40 ccs, 24 ccs, 12 ccs, you get it). Each has a personality, a speed of fill-up, its own color and viscosity. Right 1 is the most truly blood-like and prolific in its amount and viscosity, being the harbinger of “time to empty”, right 2 is less strident but happy to go along with one, left 1 is watery but still bright red and lags behind it’s right counterparts, and left 2 is mostly yellow which I have to assume is due to lymph from my absent lymph nodes (a conundrum I know). Left 2 gave me a scare yesterday. I went to empty it and as I was milking it I noticed it was really green. Oh God, INFECTION… but it just turned out to be the optical mixture of the blue stripe and the yellow contents. Phew.


Friends are asking how I am doing emotionally on the loss of my breasts. I had spent the 4 weeks since the last of chemo not going there. Thinking about it all seemed pointless as there was nothing I could do about it. Compartmentalize, compartmentalize. As the day drew closer, I would caress my breasts saying goodbye in short spurts of acknowledgement. Then I received an offer. I was texting with Gioia as I was walking Dog Mountain with the pups, getting news of Judé and filling her in on my veritable lack of processing. She texted “You want photos?” You see Gioia is a photographer and much of how she processes is through her work “…for me objectifying the disease makes it more subjective and personal”. I loved the idea: an ode to my breasts, their history, their works, their breastyness. So, the Saturday before surgery we did a 4 hour photo shoot investigating fecundity, amputation, imperfection, love, and the passing on of breasts (Maggie’s being evolutionarily eons beyond mine). I am not sure I would have been as settled as I am now had Gioia not made that remarkable offer. Thank you Gioia.

The Apple in the Garden
unretouched photo by Gioia Kuss

A Weird and Unexpected Return to Childhood

An hour or so after surgery, they let Maggz, Jack, and Martha in to see me druggèd self. Of course, Maggie being my daughter, they came bearing gifts: a flowering plant (orange, my fave color), 2 pairs of socks: one Atomic Mom, t’other Grumpy Old Man (a nurse who walked by me as I was being wheeled to the OR nodded and acknowledged me by saying “sir”, just the thing to reassure your femininity as you are heading in to get your breasts lopped off), a Get Better Soon balloon, and a stuffed blue and red dragon which I immediately named Draco (druggèdness = creativity). I love that dragon. And I am not a stuffed animal kind of gal as I suspect most of you suspect. But I held that dragon all the night thru in PACU (post-anesthesia care unit, which, get this, is a bunch of cubicles delineated by curtains inside of which each person has a fucking TV! Are you kidding me? We are all just out of surgery and we can all turn on TVs separated by curtains? Of course the fellow next to me loves him some TV and is hard of hearing. So, they give you earplugs…). But I digress. Back to Draco. He was such a comfort in a way that I haven’t felt from a stuffed animal in a loooooong time. When we got back to Martha and Roger’s post hospitalization we realized that somewhere along the way I had lost Draco and I was truly upset in a way I haven’t been over the loss of a stuffed animal in a loooooong time. And then miracle of miracles God took a tailor by the hand, oops, wrong movie (but if you can name it you win a prize!). Miracle of miracles, Martha found him in her work bag! I was unaccountably happy about the finding of a losot stuffed animal in a way I haven’t been, you got it, in a loooooong time. And now he sleeps by me at home and every now and again I touch him during the night and feel comforted.

Draco the Comfort Dragon

A Second Weird and Unexpected Return to Childhood

T’other night, Jack and I were Netflix surfing and came across a new series that is the prequel to Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal”. I think I had wandered through the room when the kids were watching the original movie, perhaps sat down with them for a bit as the characters were familiar. But as we watched the new show, I was drawn into the story and the world of the dark crystal in a way that felt familiarly like I had as a child. Not completely out of step with reality, I felt a longing for the ability to believe in the story as real while I was being swept into it at the same time. Might it be the lack of breasts bringing me back to my flat-chested childhood when life was simpler and more straightforward, stories were real, fantasy was possible, summer was endless, my best friend lived next door and we saw each other every day, our games involved trees that were horses, berries that gave us powers, umbrellas big enough to provide shelter to two girls under the leaking barn roof? Oh for the lack of the nuance that came with breasts and the concomitant adulting.

The Dark Crystal

Life Goes On and Shit Unaccountably Keeps Happening (and music always helps)

The week prior to surgery my eldest brother Michael came down with food poisoning that didn’t wear itself out. He was admitted to the ICU with strange symptoms, strange labs, and appearing to be engaged in a long strange trip. By Saturday there was not enough improvement for me not to go see him. I didn’t want to wake from surgery and find out I’d never see my brother again (dramatic but that’s where my mind goes), so I packed for surgery (exceedingly poorly which would prompt Martha to go to TJs for the softest, comfyest, loosest, clothesiest clothing to go home in) as I would go from Maine to Boston on Sunday, uploaded some podcasts and sped off to Maine.

I arrived around 10 pm and sat by Mike who was well sedated having had seizures earlier in the day. Told him in no uncertain terms that there would be no dying anytime soon (as I had instructed mom and dad on the way there “turn him right around should he show up”). Then we listened to the Allman Brothers for a couple hours.

The next morning I arrived early and Mike was kind of awake, semi-lucid in a talking nonsense with occasional sense kind of way. I put on Santana’s Caravanserai and Mike smiled, eyes closed. He then started to play air guitar with one hand, eyes still closed and face crinkling in time with his notes. It was hysterical in a much needed kind of way.

When I asked what he would like to hear next, he said the Allman Brothers’ Desdemona. What?!?! I had never heard of this song. I had no idea that there was an Allman Bros. song I had never heard of. He was teaching me through the fog.

So, Mike having handily upstaged my surgery (which I hope to never let him forget), I left him and his girls to head to Boston, much relieved though still worried (isn’t that always the way).

He is out of the ICU as of today and getting better steadily.

Thank you mom, dad, and God.

(no photo here because, well, that just wouldn’t be right. BUT if you were wondering about Flatsies….)

I had totally forgotten that they came in frames!

10 thoughts on “Breastless and Breathless

  1. You’re incredible, Mary! As always, your writing leaves me laughing and crying. Oh, and the movie is Fiddler on the Roof! (I was in my town’s production of it- I played the important role of “a villager”!- when I was 13!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant writing Mary. Your ZEST, HUMOR and ability to touch other people’s lives as you go through this process is just plain brilliant!!!! I admire you. FYI: I was nicknamed FLATspieler by the crazy Orthopaedic Surgeons I work with. (well, one of them called me that). Because my last name is so crazy, I accepted it. I just nicknamed him ‘littlepenis’ and all was well. Keep on, keeping on Mary. You go girl!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Mary. Wow. I cried, I laughed, I ooohed I ahhhed. Your full expression of experience is a powerful inspiration to me, you are amazing. I want to see those (o)(o) photos. LOVE!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re one of my favorite writers now. I wager you’ll be signing autographs soon and I will have to wait my turn.
    Thank you, thank you for writing life. It helps; it helps me more than you know. MUAH!


  5. I had forgotten all about flatsies! You have reminded me of many important (and not so important but wonderful) things. You are remarkable in a way that gives me sparks. Looking forward to getting to seeing you soon. Mwah.

    Liked by 1 person

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