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January 12, 2007
Gaining Release: Healing Hands and Labyrinths

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Posted: July 14, 2006

Spiritual Caregiving

Alive with Passion -- Part 3

(Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a 4-part feature -- one amazing woman’s triumph over our cultural habit of fear of illness and fear of death. This article received more mail than any other feature published by Spirituality & Health magazine. It appears, with illustrations, in the February 2006 issue, which is available by special order via email:


The Third Affirmation

The night before the double mastectomy I threw a "boob wake." If I was going down and my life was to be destroyed, then I would celebrate that destruction.

I've always thrown good parties and this one was no exception. Even if people did walk in the door with a tenuous look on their faces, after a few beers or glasses of wine they figured I was solid, so they enjoyed themselves as usual. One bosomy friend gave me a tremendous gift. After a few beers, she asked, "Are you going to get implants?"

"No. I've taken hits on my chest during surf wipeouts that would explode them. Besides, if I live 600 more years, I'll recover the cost of the surgery in bras I don't buy. I think of it as my sole victory over Mr. G. -- gravity. Maybe when no one is around I'll body-surf topless. I'm afraid the scars will scare people."

"Some women get their chests tattooed after the surgery," she said. "It would be like you were always wearing a top. Then you could surf topless no matter who was around."

I felt a singing in my soul. Not only was I going to surf again, but I would have my daughter draw my love of the sea and have that picture -- a sacred prayer -- tattooed on my chest. Then I would fly across the wave and walk to the nose of the board -- topless.

The morning of the surgery, I was scheduled to be at the hospital at 7:30. I rose at 5:30 and went body-surfing. I wanted the blessing of salt water on my body. Again, unconsciously, I chose passion and acceptance over fear of the inevitable.

My breasts looked beautiful in the sunlit, diamond-patterned water. I savored the coolness of the water flowing over the delicate skin of my breasts and nipples for the last time. I offered my breasts to the great nurturing mother, Lady Sea. I didn't cry. I simply said aloud, "I will be in this beauty again. I will."

Around 6 a.m. the next day, the surgical resident came into my room. I was standing by the window, watching dawn paint the clouds gold over the green mountains. "I need to see your chest," she said.

For the first time, although I had walked into the mirrored bathroom during the night to relieve myself, I opened the hospital gown and looked down at my chest. It was a black, blue, and purple-brown bloody mess. Gone were the perky pink nipples. In their place was old, oozing hamburger unfit for a meat market display. I did not cry.

"You are too thin to have this surgery," said the resident.

I looked at her. "Little late now, don't you think? How soon can I get my chest tattooed?"

She looked at me as though I were from another planet. "Didn't you hear me? You have no body fat on your chest at all. There is nothing protecting your heart but skin and ribs. The membrane covering your pectoral muscle attachments, the fascia, has been cut and stripped off. The nerve endings have been cut. They must be screaming. It will be two weeks before the incisions even heal. The blood will be draining into those drainage tubes for at least as long. Why did you refuse reconstruction?"

"I want to surf topless. How soon can I get a tattoo?"

The resident walked out of the room. I looked back at the light on the mountains.


(The final installment of this story will appear in next week’s Spiritual Caregiving column. You can read the first installment by clicking here and the second installment by clicking here.)


Mandi Caruso is a passionate hospice volunteer, surfer, and author. This article is excerpted from her unpublished book Doors to Heaven. In addition to teaching her mammogram tech how to surf three months after her own surgery, she has taught other cancer patients how to surf. See for more.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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