The Stories It Could Tell

April 28th, 2011 § 12 comments

I almost stole it: the tape measure with the purple finger prints.

After all, my surgeon had left it in my room by accident. After he had marked me with his purple pen and left my room on his way to get ready for my surgery, he left it sitting on the counter by the sink. In my nervousness and tranquilized haze I didn’t see it until after he’d left. I figured I shouldn’t hold onto it as I was wheeled in (“Who knows what germs lurk in tape measures!” I thought), and that if I gave it to a nurse it might get misplaced. So I shoved it in my bag of personal belongings knowing I’d be in for an office visit shortly after surgery.

I actually forgot about it during the days I was home after my two-day hospital stay. The drugs, the pain, the shock of my breasts gone and numb chest filled with temporary tissue expanders were all I could think about.

I forgot all about it as I was shuttled around for weeks unable to drive. I wasn’t living my normal life, my normal routine. I wasn’t carrying my purse and keys daily. I was living in pajamas and constantly trying to adjust to a new body once the drains were removed.

Then while I was looking for my keys a few weeks after my operation I saw it: the tape measure.
The yellow fabric one with the purple fingerprints up and down its sides.
The one.
The one that had measured and determined where my body was to be cut.
It was there in my bag.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about its practicality; it was just a tape measure.
Just like the ones I have sitting around with all of the odds and ends that inhabit kitchen drawers.
But that doesn’t capture the social meaning of it.
It wasn’t just any tape measure. It was mine.
But it wasn’t just mine, I argued with myself—it wasn’t a personal momento for me.

For a moment or two I wanted it.
I needed it,
as if to remind myself what had been,
of what I had been.

It wasn’t mine, I thought– it was his.
But more than that, it was theirs; it was ours… the other women who had needed it.
Now I was one of them. It was a shared history we had: strangers who had endured the same surgery, whose faces and names I would not know.
We were bound together by this object which had literally touched all of us.

And then I realized it was my responsibility to give it back.
Not for the obvious reason that it didn’t belong to me.
But as usual, I thought of the other women: the ones who didn’t even know they had cancer,
the ones who were going about their normal lives that day, and in the days ahead, only days or weeks or months from learning the life-altering news that would change their lives.
I felt giving back the tape measure would be my way of being bound to them, of saying “I know what you have ahead of you. I’ve come from there, and we are in it together.”

And so when I went to one of my office visits, I took it out of my bag and casually handed it to my surgeon. “You forgot this in my room when I had my surgery,” I said. He thanked me and said “I wondered where it had gone to.”

Little did he know the journey it had taken.

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§ 12 Responses to The Stories It Could Tell"

  • This is powerful, and so elegantly metaphoric. The histories shared and the futures yet to be shared through this one, practical, and yet profound tool. I really appreciated reading this. Every word.

  • Ann Gregory says:

    Beautifully written my friend. Hugs.

  • Pamela Carlson says:

    You’ve kept the emblem with this eloquent post. <3

  • Erika Robuck says:

    Wow–I’m covered in chills. Your understanding of the unseen connection to others with cancer is incredibly moving. It’s hard to read about the practicalities of measuring, cutting, and draining the body. I can’t imagine what it is to live them under those circumstances. I continue to be astounded over and over again by your honesty, generosity, and bravery.

  • craftychicky says:

    Powerful. Moving. Eloquent.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’m with you Erika! This puts chills up and down my spine.
    My sister had a biopsy that was negative. She thought she had breathed her final sigh of relief. No more worries. She didn’t have the “C-word”.
    She was wrong. She had another, and now another. Tomorrow she goes to request another mammogram. Another lump…..just above the last one.
    X marks that spot. She hates the X. It is her tattoo, she says. Charcoal dye injected as a marker so that if needed they can go in and know exactly where to pinpoint these little lumps of God-knows-what under the surface.
    My daughter didn’t understand my sisters hatred for tattoos until last week in the pool–her aunt divulged her secret. My daughter’s Trinity tattoo adorns her back. 19year old rebellion, etched into her skin by a creepy guy with vinyl gloves. Not placed there by a caring radiologist, who herself underwent a radical mastectomy.
    Two weeks ago, the same radiologist etched the same X under the skin, of the breast, of my mother. Now she waits, holding her breath, wondering what is to come.
    Amazing how a mark, a ruler, a breast or the removal of one, connects us all.
    Thank you for sharing Lisa. I wish I could have stood beside you, to carry your purse, your keys, and your ruler.

  • Lisa,
    A beautiful piece. I identify with your words and sweet sentiments, but with or without the tape measure, we will be forever bound to one another. Oh, for the day when there are women who no longer join our club and embark on our same journey.


  • Beautiful post, Lisa! Your posts always move me and I’m so glad you are sharing your personal journey of recovery. Hope you have a great weekend!

  • Brannon says:

    Lisa, your posts are always as well presented as they are inspired. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Michael Rusk says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal journey with cancer. Your words have new meaning for me and I take great comfort in your grace and strength.


  • Kris Simmons says:

    Lump in my throat.

  • Jen says:

    Lisa, you remain a constant source of inspriation to me and every woman who meets you whether virtually or in person. You are an amazing woman. Thank you for taking the time to write this and share your story with all of those who share your pain. I am so happy to have met you and to call you my friend.

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