Last week I had to have Mohs surgery on my chest to remove a large basal cell carcinoma. I’ve had the surgery twice before, on my shoulder and neck, so I knew what to expect.
Basically the surgeon slices a thin layer of the spot and takes it back to the lab to examine under a microscope to see if there is more cancer there. If the margins are clear then you are done, if not he cuts another layer, over and over until the tissue is clean.
All in one visit – you might have to stay the whole day. It’s not so bad as it sounds given the fact that you are given a hefty dose of anesthesia.
But its uncomfortably intimate too.
The doctor is up in your face, right at your chest for quite a while. And my chest feels like such a vulnerable part of my body.
My mind wandered and thought about those Shakespearean tragedies where the prince rips his shirt open waiting for the king to plunge in the dagger that is held with a drop of blood at the skin.
At any rate, my doctor was really personable and he told me that he went into surgical dermatology because he got to follow-up with his patients and see the results of his work in transforming ugly malignancies into repaired skin.
He was a natural at making me feel reassured and comfortable. I think it’s part of that particular profession and he was good at it.
I left the clinic with 25 stitches and a big gauze stuffed under my sweater.
I also left thinking about layers and vulnerability. How easy it is to give up our power and safety to doctors because it’s a requirement. But in real life it’s not so simple with our personal relationships.
My sister and her daughter visited me a week later and it was really great to catch up. We talked about our lives – big stuff and little juicy stuff. Weaving the loom from fragmented bits from our time spent apart.
Isn’t it funny how you can just feel when a conversation dips down into the next level of intimacy?
We all know it – that opening, the tender place, the tiny hesitation when you reach a thread you’re not sure you should pick at.
Or one that you can share honestly.
It seems to me we must choose who it is we will entrust our hearts to. Who we will let dip in and take slivers of our openheartedness. Because the walls are also there to protect and serve a purpose – to shield. But they are a gateway if we dare.
Yoga and meditation say breathe, breathe into the stiff, tightly bound tissues and the breath itself will open up the muscles and tendons, stretch them and make everything more pliant.
True for hamstrings and hearts.
My stitches are itchy and red, but I have the go ahead to start running tomorrow. I can already imagine the soreness of the rubbing against my running bra. But as all women know, we’re tough, we gird our breasts for battle (or something).
I’m aware of my generously sized chest, the center of body’s balance, exposed. And my heart is too. In my running and my writing and hopefully in my real life.
I bear the scars from 56 years – the cancer surgeries, the stretch marks, the laugh lines. They are hashmarks on a body that still craves to keep breathing into the possibilities of life – the joy, the challenges, the struggles for intimacy.
And I visualize the deep layers of my body, composed of miniscule cells that allow me to remain flexible and open – my aging skin and diminishing bones, my well used organs and all the rest of it.
And I imagine my faithful heart that keeps beating out a tempo that’s mysterious but regular, and pumping rich blood to replenish and distribute – all to bear the vital nutrients that surge to the darkest and yet hopefully bravest part of myself.