By Jennie Nash
It's hard not to fall in love with a man who draws on your body in black Sharpie pen as if you are a priceless canvas and who then uses his scalpel and thread to craft you a new breast from the cancerous wreckage of your original one. Add in the fact that the man looked like Matthew McConaughey, walked with a Harrison Ford swagger, and spoke with the authority of a general on a mission to save the Earth from alien invasion, and you can see how natural it was for Dr. Black to become the hero of my recovery. I fell hard -- but I'm a happily married woman and it wasn't real love. It was fantasy love, a schoolgirl crush, something I would never have declared out loud, or acted upon, or even, probably admitted. But still. It was love.
"There will come a time when you don't even remember my name," my doctor said, at one of the last appointments before he released me. He spoke in a wise, generous, slightly mocking tone, and I laughed at how knowing he was about patient's temporary devotion and blushed at how transparent I was about how much he had meant to me. You made me whole, I thought. I will never forget you.
But it turns out he was right in spirit if not in fact. Ten years later, the name of my swashbuckling plastic surgeon still blazes bright in my mind, but there are many days when I don't remember that I had breast cancer -- or I suppose it's more accurate to say that I don't register it. It has faded in my mind, receded like a storm. There are days when I put on a red bathing suit and think nothing. Days when I wear a plunging neckline and think nothing. Days when I look at my scar-crossed body in the mirror and think nothing. I look at the big slashing scar across my belly where my doctor "harvested" my flesh and I look at the beautiful, balanced breast he made me with its Saturn circles of scars, and I don't think breast cancer. I just think, This is me.
But then what to make of this? Recently while on vacation, I was getting a massage. The massage therapist had my right arm pulled up high over my head as she worked the muscles in my shoulder and back. My underarm was exposed, the base of my rebuilt breast. There are scars that run through that part of my body like winding roads. She will notice the scars, I thought, and She will say something.
I have often had the experience where a massage therapist "reads" my body -- or my mind. I have had a therapist tell me that she felt grief in my body at a time when a dear friend was dying. I have had a therapist ask me if I was a "sage" woman (a native mystic/storyteller) at a time when I was writing a book about a wise old woman. It wasn't out of the realm of possibility that this therapist would see my scars and say something about my cancer -- You have the soul of a survivor or Your body has the wisdom of wholeness. It would be something insightful, something uplifting, something grounded in the flesh where cancer used to lurk. I waited for it, but the massage therapist never said a word.
When I got up from the table, I was disappointed, because there's a part of me that doesn't want to forget.
Jennie Nash is the author of "The Victoria's Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer" and the novel, "The Last Beach Bungalow," about a cancer survivor. Visit her at www.jennienash.com or on Red Room, where you can read her blog.