Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Adding a little zest to life

It's really happening. Mr A is coming to my house so we can have a party with oranges and pretend they are breasts. We're going to make skin envelopes and fashion areolas out of the peel, and he's bringing some sutures and showing me precisely how he stitched me up. The idea of using oranges to explain reconstructive surgery emerged by accident after I blogged about the process of mastectomy and got it wrong. I wrote about scoring an orange, imagining the surgeon creating the flaps of skin in the breast to access the tissue. (You can read that post here.) Being a pernickety, detail-obsessed, surgical sort, Mr A corrected me by slicing oranges to demonstrate precisely what he had done. (Read that old chestnut here.)

I never really understood what happened to my body during surgery until the orange exchange began. Then a whole new world opened up to me. I had been feeling mutilated. Now I feel more like a work of art. The surgeons I met at the Hunterian museum a while ago made me realise that the work of an oncoplastic surgeon is like that of a sculptor; it was at the museum that I discovered "surgery" is derived from the ancient Greek words for hand work. I had a conversation with one of the breast care nurses more recently who talked about the healing intention of the surgeons - and it's a bit bonkers, but it made me think of the Buddhist concept of lovingkindness.

"Lovingkindness, an awkward and somewhat quaint term in English, is the translation of the Pali word metta, which means complete and unrestrained friendliness. The Buddha taught that when the mind is at ease, it is friendly, congenial, well-wishing. The mind at ease likes nearly everybody." (Sylvia Boorstein). It occurred to me that the act of mastectomy wasn't a mutilation, it was an act of kindness - of course it was; I still feel in deep down that Mr A saved my life. I know that's melodramatic really, but without the operation I would likely have been harbouring invasive cancer around my 40th birthday.

Which brings me back to my orange surgery party. You're all invited. Just remember to bring an orange.

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