After cancer surgery

Here is a guest blog from Margie Allen.

One Saturday morning after Linda had recovered enough from her double mastectomy surgery to try some outings, she and Matt and I happened on the Nesconset farmer’s market. We ended up in line for the cashier—Matt, me and Linda behind me—all of us holding an armful of the stuff we bought: green beans, golden cherry tomatoes, cantaloupes, a watermelon, six ears of corn, some yellow zucchini.

I turned to say something to Linda, and…well, I couldn’t help but laugh. There she was, the one with the cantaloupes, holding one in each hand right up against her chest where her breasts used to be. She saw me laughing, and then she started laughing. Then Matt turned, wondered for a moment if it was really OK to laugh (??), and he too doubled over. I got out my cell phone and Linda stepped out of line for a photo, her orange hoodie and pink Keens looking great against the background of orange winter squashes. And then all the women in the line and the folks behind the counter started laughing with us and making little comments.

It was a strange and wonderful moment in which the anxiety and pain and grief of surgery and recovery got trumped by the pure joy of being alive in the company of a small community of laughing people on a beautiful late summer day amid the fruits and vegetables. It didn’t matter that all those women were laughing about being “well-endowed.” There was something ancient and lovely about the sense of solidarity: family, women, food, bodies, laughter, loss, abundance. We laughed some more on the ride home. The whole thing felt sweet, a healing thing for all of us. Later, Linda asked me to send her the photo. I said “Really? You want to keep it?” She said, “Yes, that was an important moment.”

The changes that follow great loss are always tough to bear. The memories of how things used to be haunt us. Meanwhile, the people around you are also adjusting, feeling their way around what to say, where to look, how to help. We all have to figure out how to negotiate the taboos connected to certain losses. . . . And it’s not easy to bring up medical problems that involve parts of the human body that we don’t normally talk about openly and are so closely tied to our core identities: prostate, testicles, breast, uterus. The fact is, though, it is often a huge relief to break through the taboo into a conversation about what is really going on. This photo is a taboo-breaker. We, and you, can talk about it. It is OK.

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