I didn’t mean to steal the nipples. I thought insurance was supposed to pay for them, so I just walked out of Intimate Images, the “all things cancerous lingerie shop” with a pair of $42 medium almond nipples, I didn’t really want them anyway but my plastic surgeon insisted I test drive them – to see where I wanted them because after my bilateral mastectomy I no longer had my own set. (I’ll be fine, but as a result – “Frankentits”)
I really thought it was her job to know where they should go.
So when Linda calls me and tells me that I owe them $42 for something I didn’t want and was only going to need for a couple of weeks – I’m thinking I am not going to drive all the way back out to Santa Monica to Victoria’s Malignant Secret, – a store with walls of the ugliest cotton bras in white! or nude! hanging between wigs on styrofoam heads from the 70’s with creepy orange lipstick and Twiggy eyelashes. Bras with features like a handy little detachable Velcro bags for your post surgical drains that are expensive! Last time I was there I spent $88 on a bra – $88 dollars – I told Linda for $88 dollars I expect something black, leather or crotchless.
I didn’t go back – instead – I became passive aggressive about them and just left them in the bag on my dining room table, where every time I passed them – the Tell Tale nipples would say to me, “ wear us! Take us back – or…wear us! You’re supposed to practice… You stole us…”
Until finally the Friday before my Monday surgery – I stick Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum where they look like they belong (with whatever latex magic stick technology they use in those kid’s toys you throw at walls) and the perfect little rubbery flesh colored discs look pretty great. I dress in a little black J. Crew dress a cute A line that falls straight out from the bust and why not capitalize on my new fake perky rack – I decide to go braless.
And I go about my errands for the day.
I go see my agent to drop off some money, a friend’s apartment, and the post office.
I get home, I take off my dress. And I only have one nipple.
I have lost a nipple.
I don’t know where.
My agent’s office? They all know about the cancer, so if there was a spare nipple around, clearly it would be Brockett’s.
Was my nipple at the post office? Stuck to someone’s shoe? Did it catch a ride on a priority box or an express mailbox on it’s way with someone’s Christmas packages? Was it sitting on a curb somewhere with a tiny knapsack singing“all by myself!”
And oh shit – my friend Anna has a miniature pinscher who will eat anything – so I called her immediately, “Hey, it’s Catheryn – is my nipple there? Well, look around on the carpet because I’m afraid Bruno will choke on it – and die. ” Death by my nipple.
I’m panicked. I take a flashlight and trace my steps back and forth to my car –- finding a lot of gum, a penny, a nickel, but no nipple.
I pray it is at the post office resign myself to the fact it is probably waiting to be discovered by my agent who will feel sorry for me – that woman with cancer who cannot manage to keep herself together.
By noon the following Monday I was out of the hospital and the surgery went great! Ok – I’m lying – the right one ended twice as big as the left – huge – it looked like I could milk a calf – this big round twisted Cinnabon looking thing held together with angry black stitches. I’m not sure what I expected from a nipple made out of skin origami from my groin, but they looked nothing like my tiny perfect plastic peach pancakes.
It took two minor surgeries to tame the nipple that ate Manhattan but – now, now that the “crisis” is over – the almost 2 years of cutting and pasting, is over I feel a desperate need to make some sort of sense or get the lesson out of all of this, the getting cancer, all the surgeries, the vanished time, the discomfort, the fear, the part of me that is lost and reconstructed into something that I wonder if will ever feel like my own.
There has to be some grand plan, – “everything happens for a reason.”
God isn’t careless and irresponsible, like some crappy foster Mom who lets the dishes pile up in the sink while smoking cigs, eating Doritoes and watching TMZ – I know this because I’ve seen some of his/her good work. I’ve seen sunrises, oceans, babies, and Hugh Jackman.
Clearly there has to have been a reason.
Live life to the fullest every day…? Live in the moment…? Don’t become separate from your spirit…? That causes dis ease. Did I become separate from my spirit? Should I return those cute patent leather pumps to Macy’s and wait to see if they go on clearance?
What’s the “take away?”
There is a wonderful Doctor, a pioneer in mind/body health who started the first cancer support group, – Rachel Naomi Remen, who has written extensively about the capacity of illness to be a gift. She tells gorgeous stories of people who have found a deeper meaning in the experience of cancer, in one story she says:
“Sometimes it takes a wake-up call like cancer to bring us back to ourselves. The crisis of illness may shake us free of the life we have created and allow us to begin to return to the life that is our own. “One patient, a CEO with cancer, told me, “I always knew what mattered. I just never felt entitled to live by it before.”
And now I feel worse because I feel completely gypped! Where’s my shiny new back to myself life? Because now I just feel like a human Mr. Potato head – but as my friend Matt pointed out – 2 years older with the same problems?
But sometimes, sometimes… I get a glimpse of something… Like in December when I traveled home – back to the East Coast for the holidays, and it was less than 2 weeks after the surgery – and with all of these surgeries you have limitations – I couldn’t raise my arms above a tee, and I couldn’t lift anything over 5 lbs. I got dropped off at the airport with no carry on – no purse. (I was so not looking forward to 5 hours with just my iPhone and a Skymall magazine.) And so I wouldn’t do anything, and could ask for help – I wore a fake sling on my arm.
I have to change planes in Denver – because it’s Southwest (the Greyhound of the sky) and I find out my flight to Baltimore is cancelled; fog. Not delayed, not rerouted, cancelled. And I’m just standing there at the counter in my stupid fake sling looking at the woman, who is explaining that I could fly standby to Dulles – an airport that is like 1 ½ hours from my parent’s house, but I would be number eight on the stand by list and I’m thinking – I don’t even have a toothbrush! And even if I could get back to LA – I would have to get one of my friends to come out and get me and the luggage and then do the whole thing the next day. The guy at the counter on my right is freaking out because he just found out he’d be number nine on the stand by list – which means now I’m up to number ten, and the ticketing agent motions to me to walk down to the other end of the counter. Once I get there she hands me an actual ticket on the fully booked flight. She says, “with everything you have going on – it looks like you should just get on that plane.” I looked at her and said, “You know – this is just a disguise, there is nothing wrong with my arm – I’m going through reconstruction for breast cancer and I didn’t even know how I was going to manage to get home – you have no idea what this means to me.”
And she started to cry and said, “I’m a survivor – 3 years.”
And I started to cry.
To me – it was a deeply profound moment – an amazing moment of connection I wouldn’t have had without going through what I’ve been through, without her going through what she’s been through – and I think – well that’s a hell of a lesson to learn – I mean how dark does it have to get to see the light?
It’s about seeing beauty in the darkness.
Then I think – no that’s totally not it, – it’s the fact that that moment wouldn’t have happened without us sharing it with each other, – that’s what it is! It’s about sharing our stories, that unites us and makes us feel not so alone…
And then I think – oh my god!! – fuck it!! – I have no idea – I think it just comes down to how you choose to see every moment of your day – a challenge, a choice, or a gift.
And feel entitled to live that.
And oh yeah, I found my nipple later that night – my nipple that I don’t need any more that I did get insurance to pay for – it was there in the hall by my door,– rolled up on itself like a Pirouline cookie or a tiny piece of salami waiting to be stuffed with cream cheese.