Natalie said I should try to get on the Moth Podcast with a 5 minute story. There is a live event in Boston about “Beauty” in a few weeks. Everyone with a story puts their name into a hat, and maybe you get picked and maybe you don’t, so I’ll probably go to several of these before I get picked. You don’t read the story at one of these events… you memorize your points and TELL your story, so I’ll have to create bullet points and practice telling it in the mirror. If I DO get picked, this is what I will tell:
For my first follow up appointment after my mastectomy, I used googly eyes to make my boob into a face. I had a mastectomy by the way. Just the one. Just the bad one.
About a month before my mastectomy, I found a video on YouTube called “5 weird reasons why I love my mastectomy.” I found the video by googling “mastectomy porn” for reasons that are not important but involve drunkenly demonstrating internet rule 34. The video has this beautiful actress with cancer. Aniela is hilarious so it’s not “a mastectomy saved my life” or “the peace of mind of being cancer free.” No. It’s “you can turn your boob into a glow worm night light!” and “Facebook can’t censor your topless photos!” You know, the important things. I didn’t actually watch the video though before the mastectomy or before this first post-mastectomy appointment. Love my mastectomy? I can’t even THINK about my mastectomy. But I did see the thumbnail and the thumbnail has a mastectomy scarred breast made into a muppet by careful application of googly eyes. So I think: Eureka! I should make my boob into a puppet for my mastectomy follow up appointment. Cancer is DEPRESSING and you have to deal with it every day, so you must amuse yourself or descend into the abyss.
So for this surgery follow up appointment, I wear googly eyes under my clothes to the appointment. My un-mastectomied breast’s nipple was a nose with a big highlighter smile underneath, and my mastectomied boob has just the googly eyes and the straight line. It wasn’t even really straight, because it still had the surgical tape. The mastectomied muppet did NOT look happy. So the doctor comes in, we talk about all the boring things like pain and wound healing, then he asks if he can check the scars. I open up my button up shirt and the ugly pink surgical bra. My doctor is very professional and so is careful to maintain eye contact through this shirt opening process, but I see him falter when the googly eyes become visible in his peripheral vision.
“What is this?” He asks.
“I have one happy boob, and one sad boob.” I say.
I can see him trying to parse this. “Why is this boob sad?” he asks.
“You are going to stab her with a huge needle,” I say solemnly. It’s like I am a child testifying in court using puppets.
He has nothing to say to this. He nods. “Yes I am,” he says, and gets right to it. Unflappable, he is.
While he is putting the needle into my mastectomied breast, I ask if it’s more difficult to do if the boob is looking at him. He has nothing to say to that, so he just shakes his head and wishes he were somewhere else. After the stabbing, I say “We haven’t done any progress pics. We should do progress pics.” I had mentioned in a previous appointment that I want to be his “best possible outcome” example that he shows new patients.
He laughs nervously. “Today?” he asks.
“Today,” I confirm. “I feel good about progress pics today. To show the progression.”
“This goes in your medical record,” he says, incredulously certain I don’t understand.
“Yup. This should be recorded.” I say.
“This goes in your medical record that all your doctors see.” He is still talking to the small child
I nod. “I think my other doctors should see this.” I say. “Don’t you?”
Well, that stumps him. He asks wonders aloud what our mutual friend (his colleague) will say about this. “Oh she thinks it’s hilarious. I’ve already sent her a picture to show her what I was doing to you today.”
I wanted the picture because it’s hilarious, first and foremost, but also because I don’t want to censor this part of my cancer story because it is too ugly. Some people won’t do pictures when they are bald or can’t look in the mirror because they think their poor mangled body is ugly after the surgery scars. I didn’t want to make this a blank space in my history, even my photo history. Scars are beautiful because they remind us that the past was real. Scars are beautiful because wounds are how we learn empathy as children. Wounds and scars, physical or emotional, are what EVERYONE has in common. Scars and wounds can connect us with each other and with humanity (note that it does not work on the sociopaths. I have an ex boyfriend that not even Julius Ceasering will help— straight up magic impervious to empathizing effects of wounds).
My body is beautiful because it is the one that I inhabit. My body is beautiful because it’s the one that allows me to live in this world and feel all the wonderful and terrible things that go along with it. My scars can be beautiful if I make them beautiful, if the story I tell about them to myself in my head acknowledges their beauty. And if I can’t make them beautiful, making them hilarious as muppets is the next best thing. It’s like I’m a cancer magician over here. My boob is beautiful because /I/ say it is, and there is power and beauty in that.