Mark of Courage

It’s not the stitches that are freaking me out – it’s the darkness.


For the first time since November 18, 2010, I have a dark circle in the middle of my breast. Just one breast. The one that had the potentially cancerous mole. The one that now has thin, course, spikes poking out of tightly tied knots at the base of my skin. During the procedure, I felt a burning sadness — one that reminded me of the small space when the Ativan seemed pointless and the anesthesia began to take effect. I was reminded of the team of surgical residents pulling apart my velcro compression bra, muttering, “Looks good. Looks good. Looks good.”


I knew they weren’t talking about me, the indents from the oxygen mask still outlined the lower half of my face.


For 2 1/2 years, I’ve grown accustomed to my breasts. “Breast mounds,” I told my brother when I lifted up my shirt to show him the contact inflammation. “Geez, Liza. Flash me much?” “It’s not like they’re real breasts, dude. They are more like ‘silicone-with-skin’.” That didn’t seem to make it any better. I guess it’s kind of shocking when your older sister decides to just rip open her shirt and show you her battle wounds.


For 2 1/2 years, it’s been hard for me to think of these silicone-with-skin mounds on my body as “breasts.” They don’t look like breasts. Don’t feel like breasts (well, actually, I don’t have any feeling due to nerve damage, so that statement is only partially true).  And, with the football-like stitching from arm pit to arm pit, they don’t have any similar surface qualities as breasts.


Until this week.


At least, one of them does.


My best guess is that I developed an irritation to some cheap gauze that I had purchased. Once I changed my hospital bandages and replaced it with these store-brand bandages, my skin became angry-red and inflamed. I’m talking blistery red. It took me a day to figure this out, and in the meantime, I trapped my skin under these bandages and caused quite a bit of damage to my skin. Now, 5 days later, the skin is beginning to heal and moving from that Angry Bird red to a mellow merlot.


The kind of color I used to have. When I had breasts.


Shortly after my surgery in December 2010, a wonderful woman who I had met on the cancer listservs sent me “tattoo nipples.” They were outstanding. I applied them just like the ones my kids have of fairies, Spiderman, and Pirate tattoos: peel off the plastic, put the tattoo side on the skin, and stick a wet washcloth over it for 30 seconds.


The first time I put the tattoos on, I rolled on the floor laughing. Thankfully, my wacky sister Grace was with me, and we just had a grand old time. We put different colors on our bodies and made people in my house look at us. But, in that quiet moment when your stomach just can’t laugh anymore and you let out your last, exhausted sigh,  I felt myself grow sad. The only way I would ever see my breasts look like, well, breasts, would be if I put on a stick-on tattoo. Aside from undergoing additional surgery, this was my new reality.


Until today.


Within a few days, the dark skin irritation will fade. My skin will go back to its light, uniform brown, and my mastectomy scars will once again be the featured mark. But, this time, there will be a new scar. A scar that replaced where a mole once lived. A mole that may have, maybe, forced my life into a new direction. A new journey. A new adventure.


I check the website every day — sometimes three or four times a day — to see if the pathology report has been posted. I know it won’t be. I can only hope that on Friday, the day my stitches will be removed, that my fears and worries will also be snipped away. That the words, “it was nothing” will be how I am greeted behind the courtesy curtain. And I can move on.
With the faded mark of courage to remember.


Peace, love and still waiting,



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