Gaining Visibility(2)

By: Pamela Hearon

“They look great.” The young woman’s smile was reassuring, even viewed upside down. “How long since your mastectomy?”

“Two years.” The buzzing started again along with the odd vibration that seemed detached, though Julia knew it was occurring to her body. “Are they tattooing again?”

The nurse nodded. “They’re finishing the second areola. It won’t be too much longer.”

The conversation diverted Julia’s attention from her phantom arms and the frosty operating room. “I never realized how much design work went into building breasts,” she said. “First-stage saline sacs. Injecting solution every two weeks to stretch the skin. Implant surgery. And now this. I could’ve had a house built in this length of time.”

Her companion pulled up a stool and perched beside Julia’s head. “Can you talk about it? The cancer, I mean. I know some people don’t like to.”

Julia shook her head as much as she dared, unwilling to risk jiggling anything that might make the doctors miss and result in a third areola. “I don’t mind. I’ve been told talking about it is therapeutic. Is there something you’d like to know?”

The strange vantage point gave her a clear view of the woman’s neck muscles, and Julia watched them tighten.

Talking about cancer wasn’t a mission she would’ve chosen, nor was it one she totally accepted. But the subject was frightening to women, so guilt gnawed at her if she didn’t answer questions when they asked.

“Did you have chemo?”

There it was—the nearly imperceptible cringe on the last word. Julia had learned to watch for it. Fear of chemo was greater than fear of cancer for many.

“No, I’m one of the fortunate ones.” The badge of guilt she wore pricked her. She’d gotten off easy when others suffered so much. “We caught it early, so no chemo or radiation, and no hair loss. I only lost my breasts.” She never added and my husband, though she always thought it, and ignored the tendril of pain that accompanied the silent admission.

“Well, the reconstruction looks fantastic.” The nurse gave a tug on the cloth shower cap working its way down past Julia’s eyebrows. “How do they feel?”

Julia stifled the shrug that would’ve moved her arms. “Honestly? Like two aliens have taken up residence in my chest.” Her companion grinned. “I have no sensation on the outside. No feeling because of the nerves they cut. Today’s procedure could’ve been done without the numbing shots, I think.” The buzzing stopped, and Julia noted pressure like she was being wiped down. A stronger medicinal scent invaded the area between her and the sheet.

“Sometimes nerves regenerate, though, so don’t give up on that yet.”

Two years and not even a twinge. Regeneration wasn’t going to happen. But nobody touched them anyway, so fretting about it seemed silly.

The nurse started to get up, then hesitated. “I have a biopsy scheduled for Friday.” Her bottom lip, which had curved up earlier, now had teeth dug into it, which still couldn’t control the tremble.

If her arms had been free, Julia would’ve pulled the new member of the sisterhood into a hug. As it was, she could only embrace her with words. “You’re doing the right thing, staying on top of it. Early detection’s the key. We didn’t even know it was in my left breast, too, until the post-op report came back.”

The young woman’s eyes widened. “You were brave, going with the bilateral when you didn’t know for sure.”

“No, honey, I was terrified, so don’t try to make me into a hero. I just didn’t want to live in fear the rest of my life.”

The woman’s chest rose and fell with what Julia hoped was a steadier breath as she tilted her head toward the sheet. “Sounds like they’re getting finished. You’ve done great.” She patted Julia’s cheek before sliding off the stool and scurrying away to take care of some post-op business.

Finished. Fabulous word, that.

Julia’s fingers curled into triumphant fists. She couldn’t clap her hands, but she hadn’t promised not to move her feet. Gleefully, she smacked her big toes together in applause.

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