I’m in love with my plastic surgeon. Well, maybe not in love, but something verging on wanting to eat dinner with him every night, and if that’s not love, what is?
Sure he’s older than me … by a lot. How old? If we must get technical, he’s old enough to be my father. That is, if he knocked my mom up in college. (Not pre-med college. Pre-med would have gotten me out of the, “weird, he’s too old zone.” But if I were a medical school knock-up baby.)
I picture dating him. We’re in his car, and it’s no doubt fancy and made in Europe. This is when the age difference becomes a problem. (Even in my fantasies I allow reality to sneak in.) I point out he’s driving too slow, or that he can cut in front of that car ahead. I ask him for medical advice. He tells me to make an appointment to see a doctor. I remind him he is a doctor.
Why do I love him? Could it be his Spanish accent? Perhaps the way he oozes class? Is it how he examines my body so intensely that I can practically see the artistic wheels of his brain turning? His eyebrows dart up, and an expression that he just witnessed something extraordinary flashes across his face.
It’s none of those things that make me love him, though they do help make the visits more bearable. You see, he is giving me back something that was taken away. Four days after my 40th birthday I was told I had invasive cancer in my right breast. The angry tumor had infiltrated blood vessels, all the while encouraging other cells to start multiplying in different areas.
Mastectomies are amputations of sorts, and how very fortunate we are that (if a candidate) our breasts can be reconstructed right away. Before we even wake from the anesthesia initially given to use for the breast removal, plastic surgeons slip into the operating room and take over.
This does not make the process any less traumatic, though. The day before my mastectomy, I said farewell to my right breast. I apologized for wanting it larger in junior high and high school. I thanked it for nursing my two children when they were infants. It did its job and served me well. It was a fine little breast, and now it was sick and needed to be removed before it made the rest of me sicker.
The first time I met with my plastic surgeon, I wept gulping messy sobs. All of the biopsies, tests, and other doctor visits I could detach from, but not this. As he showed me where my breast would be removed and what he would do, panic set in.
“But I like my breast,” I said weakly (as if that would change the course of events, as if that would make him say, “Never mind then! Let’s call this whole cancer thing off!”).
“I understand,” he said. “But it has cancer.”
We sat in silence as I digested this, until I was ready to gather myself and listen.
Then he started measuring my shoulders, chest, and my other breast. His eyes lit up. He got that look he gets. He told me how he would take skin from one part of my body and use it. He was confident, and his confidence made me feel confident. I went from despair to hope.
It has been three weeks since my mastectomy. Seeing my body for the first time after was unsettling. I looked lopsided and unfamiliar. I felt less feminine. I still feel less feminine. But my plastic surgeon understands this, and he quickly fills the uncomfortable contraption inserted under my muscle and skin with saline. I watch in fascination as a new breast is formed right before my eyes. I look at him and we smile.
Cancer tries to steal dreams. It tries to infest our healthy body parts with its angry, jealous cells. But we can fight back just as viciously. And we can fight back beautifully and artistically, something cancer cannot do.
My plastic surgeon’s work is pristine and I am overwhelmed. I tell him he is a magician and he agrees (he does not lack pride in his artisanship). It was then I realized I loved him. Not that kind of love, but a love of gratefulness and appreciation.
But I’d still have dinner with him every night, too.