Laverne and Shirley (Maria Heck, Pt 3)

I really thought I’d completed all parts of the puzzle that is breast cancer….finally!  I am now a new and improved version of my old self.  Well, one puzzle piece is, anyway.

I must say that the people around me were reverent, sympathetic, and respectful when speaking about my breast cancer. But the same can’t be said about my cancer-free spare parts on which many were outspoken, opinionated and forthright, especially when it came to their size.

I am someone who is extremely open about their life, and breast cancer was no exception.  I know that many people may not choose to share their story with the PTA, the crossing guard or the guy that is snaking their toilet.  For me, talking about cancer at every opportunity is the way I roll.  And, to the woman in front of me at the grocery store, sorry that I gave you a blow-by-blow description of my mastectomy when all you asked was if the cantaloupe was ripe.  To know me is to choose another check-out line, I guess.  I inserted my cancer into every possible scenario and conversation.  This made the whole mess much less terrifying for me.

The next step in the process was Rack Reconstruction.  I have to say, everyone from my father to the gas station attendant, had an opinion about the size of my future cupage.  It’s amazing how forthcoming everyone was with advice about my body parts!  I made it very clear to everyone that my new additions would be more the size of kiwis than, say, grapefruits.  If this was my one chance to have something appear young, perky and untouched by childbirth, then, by God, smaller fruit was the way to go.  My father was so disappointed in me. “I don’t get it” he would say, head shaking slowly from side to side. “Don’t you want something a little more substantial? I mean, this is your chance to get a good pair of aces!”  “Dad!” I screeched.  ”Yuck! Stop talking to me about this!  I told you, small and perky.  Small and perky, dammit!”

While no one really understood my preference, that didn’t stop random acquaintances from gesturing and declaring their hypothesis on the situation.  In fact, I imagined that everyone was sizing me up! The poor man at the corn-on-the-cob stand, for example.  He was merely putting corn in a bag, yet I imagined he was weighing-in on my perceived size!  And, I yelled at a Little League coach as he was examining errant baseballs: “Hey! That’s too big! Too big for me!”  The poor man was simply doing what every man does, innocently holding his balls.  My brother, sisters, cousins, hairdresser, and the lady at the dry cleaner, all offered their unsolicited measurement advice.  Some of this was creepy, but some helpful.  Even my surgeon was skeptical about my decision.  I doubt that in his entire career he has ever had a woman walk into his office and ask to “go smaller”.  It was a novelty.  I was concerned that implants didn’t even come in the size I envisioned: XX small. They may have had to special order them from the Land of Oz.  But thankfully, that is what arrived on Implant Day; the perfect kiwis. 

The surgery went swimmingly….except for one small detail.  Due to the damage to my underlying tissue, the surgeon had to utilize a little something they call “donor tissue.”  This fills the space left vacant by my old package.  I had no wish to know from where this donor tissue came.  Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?  Can I wear it in my hair?  Do I dare?  Does it come from a face?  Or outer space?  Was it last attached to a dog?  A cat?  A frog?  A pollywog?  Can you buy it at a store?  The shore?  Will it make me snore?  I know it made me sore. (Perhaps the tissue’s donor was a direct descendant of Dr. Seuss?)  In fact, it may very well be tissue from a swine.  So, if you see me at Agolino’s sporting a snout, a curly tail and bleating just ignore me.  And hide your bacon.  It may hurt my feelings.

Once again, I’d like to plead to all my wonderful female readers: please, please, please high tail it to your yearly mammograms.  Remember, you can be proactive and save your life, or be lackadaisical and risk an early end.  Early detection certainly saved my life.  And, by the way, my new girlfriends have names.  I toyed with a few ideas: Lucy and Ethel, Veronica and Betty, Ginger and Mary Ann, Cagney and Lacey, Thelma and Louise.  Trust me; it’s much easier to get through a health crisis when you attach names to your body parts.  Don’t ask me why…..I would have to come up with an explanation.

You will be glad to know that I am doing alright.  In fact, we are all alright….Laverne, Shirley and me!


*Reprinted from The Sunday Dispatch*

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