A mere two years after a double mastectomy, I’m facing another medical crisis. I’m not handling it gracefully. Too many crises. Dozens of surgeries. I can’t bore you with details; I have, thankfully, forgotten them.

Fake breasts

I’ve spent more time in the hospital than most interns. I’m a professional patient with the scars to prove it. When I die, they should stuff me. Put me in some kind of museum proving with enough medical attention, even the totally unfit can survive. Each doctor who redesigned some portion of me can tattoo his signature along the appropriate scar, assuming all the doctors are still alive. Probably they aren’t because I started my career on the wrong side of medicine while still a teenager and apparently am not due for retirement anytime soon.

I need a new mitral valve. I used to joke and laugh, saying the only major system in my body that continues to work is my heart. I laughed too soon. Probably jinxed myself.

I go into each surgery with fear and resignation. I know how I’m going to feel when I wake up from the anaesthesia. I will hurt. I will be sick and disoriented. I will realize I must have survived because I’m aware how totally miserable I am. Again.

Last time I woke up and the first thing I did was look down at my chest to see if I had a semblance of breasts. I did. Lumpy, not flat. Though I knew they weren’t original equipment, I was comforted by the familiarity of the landscape. With all the pain, drains and anger at my body for betraying me, it was nice to know I would at least appear — on the surface — female.


View of Boston and Fenway Park from the Baptist Hospital

That was when I said: “Never again. I’m never going through this again.”

I should just shut up. How stupid am I? I can’t remember how many times I’ve woken from that weird deathlike anaesthesia sleep and have fought my way back up to the light. Each time, just a little weaker, a bit less sure of the future — but alive. Hanging on.

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

It’s too soon. I’m not ready. Maybe this time the magic won’t work. My first husband died following complications of mitral valve replacement surgery. I watched him die. After the surgical accident that killed his brain, he remained technically alive, but in a vegetative state for 9 long months. I took care of something that looked like him, but whose eyes were empty. When finally he passed completely, I and the rest of his friends gratefully wished him well on a journey he should have taken nearly a year before.

Probably no surprise that this particular surgery holds a special terror for me.

Less than two years since I vowed “Never again,”  again has come. I suppose I’ve already made the choice to let them fix me, or try anyhow (does “or die trying” sound too ghoulish?). The alternative — slowly dying while my heart becomes less and less able to pump blood — doesn’t sound attractive. An attractive option does not seem to be available. But, there’s no advantage in waiting. I won’t get younger or healthier. The older I get, the more dangerous surgery is.


Glass shaft at the Dana-Farber.

I gave myself a little gift of time. I put off my appointment with the surgeon until the beginning of September. I need to get my head into a better space, to settle down emotionally. A few weeks of denial before I tackle another scary reality.

So for the next three weeks If you ask me, I will tell you. I’m just fine. Thanks for asking.


  1. I hope this is just a reminiscence of what happened last year and that you are not having a mitral valve problem now. I had to take a Xanax this morning and might not be interpreting things correctly. Anyway, I hope this is all just about the rocky roads and treacherous hills you have climbed and conquered over these past few years. You are one strong lady!!


  2. I’m glad to know you’re doing well after all what you’ve been through. I had no idea it was so much. I’m impressed. You seem so full of inner strenght. You’ll be in my prayers from now on.


  3. Such tough times that you have been through; I am in awe of your strength and courage. Even reading it as a ‘blast from the past’ must be hard for you, reliving it.


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  6. That must have taken some writing but for me, and I suspect for you too, writing is kind of cathartic even if what we write about is scary. I send you love and positive thoughts to help you in some little way. I will be thinking of you as September comes along. My sister and I send chi through the ether when either of us senses that the other is in need of a little extra support (she’s in Hawaii and I’m in England) and I’ll be sending chi in your direction .. 🙂


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  8. To say we’re rooting for you sounds so weak. Let me say then, we are praying for you. Rooting, too, but praying for sure. Get better. The world would be less without you.



    • In the immortal words of my mother, “I would be less without me!” Thanks old friend. It’s never dull in Uxbridge.

      On Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 12:00 PM, SERENDIPITY


  9. Holding you in thought and prayer. This post is made even more poignant for its restraint. How can ALL of this be happening? How could anyone make sense of it? deal with it? endure? And yet… there you are writing about it. Doing just fine. xoxo


    • My questions too. You don’t make sense of it. It doesn’t make sense. You just do what you have to do and hope it works out okay. Having a couple of people in your world that are really supportive helps. But the rest? There’s no formula. You do what you can and hope for the best. Thanks for caring,


  10. A very moving, honest and brave piece. The taut sparing style works brilliantly: nothing to distract, or detract, from the courageous horror of your experience. I am very glad that you have decided to go ahead with the surgery, though can understand your feelings of extreme reluctance and fear.
    But your post just goes to show that beautiful writing is not dependent upon perfect health, either physically or mentally – and, in fact, I suspect (though it can only ever be a suspicion) that many of the finest pieces, like yours, are wrung through the muslin of pain and suffering and fear.
    That which remains from that winnowing is the specks of pure metaphorical gold.
    I am glad that you do NOT pretend to be other than you are, that you are upfront about your feelings and views. This is a gift not everyone possesses.


    • Reminds me of what Hemingway said. “Writing is easy. Just sit at your typewriter and bleed.” That one hurt. But it’s also therapy and I need to get my head sorted out. I can’t make decisions when I’m acting like a crazy woman. Thanks. This is about the nicest stuff anyone has ever said about something I wrote 🙂


      • My pleasure. I know what Hemingway meant there – but, of course, we humans try and stop bleeding, don’t we? Both literally and metaphorically. Sometimes, though, blood washes out all manner of impurities and problems of which we were not aware. Can totally identify with you on the therapy front. I, too, use writing to sort out my head. Alienora


        • It’s funny because I started blogging in the first place about six months after the double mastectomy, though I didn’t much write about it. It seems like there’s no end to the possible crises in life, as long as there IS life. Makes great literary fodder … but it is hard on the nervous system. I need more coffee.

          On Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 11:45 AM, SERENDIPITY


  11. You are brave, and wonderful, and a survivor. September will come around, and you’ll make your way through it all once again. I’m going to be sending you positive, healing thoughts… and little rainbows of strength. 🙂 *hugs*


    • Thank you 🙂 I treasure the bracelet you sent. I would have mentioned it earlier, but I’ve been distracted. Writing this was probably not a great idea. It broke the wall of denial I’ve been working so hard to build.

      I suppose we are survivors. Life hasn’t been easy for you — or me. Personally, I would like a love, slow, dull stretch of time … nothing exciting. Just life, rolling along, smoothly, lovingly. Peacefully.

      You are a treasure. I treasure you. And that funky little bracelet!

      On Tue, Aug 13, 2013 at 12:25 AM, SERENDIPITY


      • Haha! People always look at me funny when I say that I long for normal difficulties and days where the only thing worth talking about is the stuff that happens in my own mind… but I know that you understand. I’ve spent my share of time in hospitals, too, and so I understand the complicated emotions.

        😀 I’m glad you got the bracelet and like it! You don’t have to wear it, but maybe bring it with you as a reminder that you have many friends in the world wishing you peaceful days. 🙂


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