The joy I feel at the end of a hot day knowing I'll be jumping into my favorite black swimsuit gets me through my mildly annoying evening commute. The anticipation of feeling the cool water on my skin magnifies my delight as I slide the wide smooth straps up over my tanned shoulders as my counterfeit tits flop into place; secured in cups that envelop and mask their scars allowing me to feel whole. I race down the back stairs as quickly as my rubber flip flops permit - crossing the courtyard toward the clear blue pool which rinses away the stresses of the day; 45 minutes of laps, water lunges and sometimes even a few push-ups on the submerged bench as well. Chlorinated water stings as it bubbles into my ears and nose and I relish the sensation as I shut out the rest of the world.
Afterwards, back home, as I pull down my damp suit ready shower off the lingering smells of a summer evening, the light hits a ragged tear inside the glistening swatch of spandex just above the moulded right cup. My immediate thought? "Shit, my favorite suit, the one that makes my 47 year old body look far better than it has a right to, is ruined." Then, a memory flashes and I quickly remember how that slash got there. It was me, a pair of sharp sewing scissors in one hand and a rubbery breast form in the other. I went back...
...to a hot summer's day, after the first cancer and before the second; after the lumpectomy and radiation and before the mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction.
The ocean was pounding, the sun blazing. Rip current warnings posted in red and white signage in front of each lifeguard station and my 13 year old fearless son gleefully riding the rough and choppy waves. I stood at the edge of the surf, worried that the lifeguards wouldn't be able to track all the swimmers that ventured into the water that day and afraid that the sea would steal my baby. I watched, holding my breath as he dunked under and then breathing deeply with relief when I saw his dark head pop up in the foam. Each time he'd glance to the shoreline, and smile with his signature "I'm okay mom" wave. Pride swelled in my chest, I taught him to respect the ocean - just as my dad taught me so many summers ago.
Finally he was tired and paddling to shore. I was grateful and eager to retreat to my sand chair. I turned my back, took two steps and it happened. A violent salty shove from behind knocking me off my feet and into the wet sand. Rolling, twisting, desperately trying to right myself as my black and white Chanel sunglasses I'd bought on vacation vanished quickly into the depths, gone. And the coupe de grace? My breast form flying out of my suit and landing, with the flourish of an Olympic gymnast, in front of the lifeguards. My face, now redder than my sun-pinked skin, heated in shame as I reached and grabbed the errant piece of teardrop shaped silicon, stuffing it back where it belonged; perched on top of my shrunken and scarred breast.
The lifeguards looked at me and then looked away. Did they want to laugh or comfort me? Were they embarrassed at what they witnessed or embarrassed for me? Beautiful in their youth and innocence I wondered if they had any idea of the curve balls life could throw? I know at their age I certainly didn't and I hated that the thought went through my head, 'someday, this could be you.'
My dignity shelved, tears threatening to escape my sunglassless eyes, I spent the rest of the afternoon stewing with my nose in a book reading the same page 10 times before realizing the dialogue in my head was far more distracting. We packed up and returned home. I stripped off my sandy suit and grabbed a pair of scissors and created an angry scar inside my favorite bathing suit to match the one on my favorite breast. I slid the heavy faux boob inside and resigned myself to the fact that even with a breast - I would always need a secured prosthetic.
Nobody told me this. No one gave me a heads up, just like every single aspect of my diagnosis, surgery and treatment it was one more thing I had to blindly figure out myself; I'm seriously not ready to be that much of an adult.
Today, as I hang up my pool damped suit three hours away from so much as a grain of sand or salty water, I realized it took me years to recall that my favorite bathing suit was scarred deep inside where no one can see it....just like me.