It’s Valentine’s Day and a year ago I received the card above. Maxine is the name I had given my “adopted” sister… or to more exact in definition: my artificial breast. It started with the necrosis scab that formed after my mastectomy. It was about three inches by an inch in size. A dark red, nearly black scab that pulled at the edges as she healed. It was serious but since I didn’t have radiation or chemotherapy my surgeon decided to let it heal while watching closely. Maxine needed constant care with Betadine dabs morning and night. She had special bandages so that I wouldn’t accidentally pull her off. I didn’t go to the beach in fear that the sand would irritate her. I wasn’t allowed to swim.
Maxine was with me for four months. In that time, my close friends got to know her well. I talked about Maxine a lot. In hindsight, I was worried and it was somehow easier to talk about her like she was a new puppy. She developed a personality from my descriptions. Maxine wasn’t light in spirit. She preferred I stay at home at night, eat avocados and get a full 8 hours of sleep. Luckily, my friends and family have hearts of gold and let me talk on about my scab named Maxine. At the time, my mother was dying, the expander in my breast was getting pumped up every two weeks, Maxine wasn’t healing quickly and I didn’t tell anyone I was working with what was actually going on. Most of my days I got through just thinking about breathing in, then out, breathing in, then out. My life had become a slow motion train wreck. Maxine stories were lighthearted and very silly.
Maxine fell off in a hotel room all on her own. One morning I was getting ready for work and she slid off my breast. Soft new skin lay beneath. I held the hardened bit she had become in my hand and felt a wave of grief. Breath in, then out, breath in, then out. I flushed her down the toilet wrapped in a tissue.
My friends didn’t know it was just the scab that was named Maxine. They thought it was the entire breast and I didn’t correct them. “How’s Maxine coming along?” they’d say. It was a natural transition and I embraced it. In a strange way, I missed Maxine the scab. I liked being busy taking care of her. When the expander was removed and a permanent implant was placed the final result was incredible. I dared not dream that it would look so good. The card arrived two weeks after the operation. I cried. I wasn’t used to the new breast yet, the stitches had not yet healed.
It’s been a year since that final operation. My right breast has become a part of me. She no longer has a personality of her own and I sometimes forget which one was adopted. I have to feel them to remind myself. Maxine is a thing of the past. I met with my surgeon last week and we took the final photo of the finished work. I had them send me a copy.
So, let me wish a Happy Valentine’s Day to you and if you have an “adopted sister” may you love her as much as I love mine.