It is Thanksgiving Day. A day of reflection and gratitude and with that in mind I have decided to give thanks for you, by giving away something for free. This now is the “extra” chapter, for those who followed my wife’s breast cancer journey and my journal online,(www.caringbridge.org), or have read the book, this is the final chapter I did not have time to include in the first printing of It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story.
The Extra Chapter: Redemption.
Even now as I reflect back on our appointment at Little Vinnie’s Tattoo Shop, it is hard not to get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
From cancer diagnosis, to mastectomy, to reconstruction, to revisions, to all of the countless doctor’s appointments before, after and in-between. Of all the times we were scared, sad, anxious, doubtful, hopeful, sure, angry, happy… outside of the day we learned Debbie was cancer free, little could compare to this.
It was everything we hoped for and more…
Vinnie is a talented artist to say the least and has transformed his part of the tattoo parlor into a mecca for miracles. For the women who battled the beast and won, whether temporarily, or permanently and want an opportunity to feel whole again, this is the place.
Debbie and I had paid a visit to Vinnie six months before, only to be turned away because he took one look at Debbie’s breasts and told us it was “too soon”. The scars from a second round of implant revisions were too fresh and he refused to take the chance, though he said others might have. Though we were deeply disappointed, it was the right thing to do.
Now, in the beginning of September, 14 months removed from the double mastectomy, with the revisions and recoveries in the rear view mirror, now was the right time.
And Vinnie got right to work. After Debbie took off her top and slipped on the surgical gown, she and I held our collective breath as Vinnie took some cleaning solution and rubbed her breasts, the same place he stopped last time around, only to tell us he couldn’t move forward, that we would have to go back and wait. This time, he kept going, saying the scars looked “good” and healed enough for him to proceed. For the first time since this ordeal began it was easy to smile…relief that my bride was going to get what she so badly wanted, a piece of redemption.
Vinnie got to work mixing up some type of magic potion, talking to us the whole time, as he carefully prepared his equipment and used his special tattoo hardware to craft a too-good-to-be-true nipple right where it should go, on top of the scar on Debbie’s right breast.
Debbie was facing the mirror and I was seated a little distance behind her so I could see the entire process. The whole time I was talking to Vinnie, asking him questions, as he shared a good part of his life story and the reason he decided to dedicate his business to helping breast cancer victims. Vinnie had been doing similar work for a while and was thinking of giving it up, because much of the work he was being asked to do was single areola and nipple reconstruction. It’s difficult work, trying to match up his own handiwork to look like the woman’s G-d given nipple and breast which already exists. Vinnie was ready to call it quits a few years back, and then one day he got a phone call.
On the other end of the line was his sister and she was upset. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Vinnie remembers the call vividly, as do all of us who have heard the phone ring and heard sadness and despair on the other end. He says it was the parking lot call that changed it all. Sounds familiar. Vinnie says it was that phone call and his sister’s situation which led him to his decision to not to give up, to not only move forward, but to expand… and to learn more about the craft, to become what he is today, someone who is changing lives, providing the last final piece of the puzzle, a physical, emotional and psychological piece of redemption to hundreds of breast cancer victims. Vinnie is leaving a legacy.
The right breast didn’t take long. Soon enough Vinnie turned Debbie’s chair around to work on the left breast and now she was facing me. I had brought along the draft for the book, It Takes 2, which was just days away from going to the local printer. At the time, it was the only physical evidence I had that I was actually going through with the publication, and I wanted Vinnie to see it was real… and let him know he was to be part of our journey in the pages of this story. He was excited to be a part of it all. I talk about Vinnie several times in the book, though I knew I was out of time to include this particular moment, my editor and graphic artist would never allow it because the deadline of publishing was a few days away. There just wasn’t time, until today.
In less than an hour, Vinnie was finished. Unbelievable. Not just in the time it took to change the appearance of Debbie’s breasts, but the work was in a word, phenomenal. Perfect color, perfect size, and to top it all off the nipples were 3-D. It was about as close to reality as you can get. Instantly I could see it in Debbie’s eyes… a change, she was happy with Vinnie’s masterpiece, she was smiling, though I didn’t know it at the time, also in a fairly good deal of pain. Hell, no pain, no gain. It was worth it.
We left with instructions and some ointment and non-stick bandages. Debbie would need to use the bandages for a little while, just to make sure Vinnie’s work didn’t cling to some clothing and have to be redone. There was deep satisfaction and gratitude for this small miracle. Everything I had read, everything I myself had written about Vinnie and his practice, had come true. It was hard not to get teary-eyed, thinking back to my own parking lot call, so many, many months ago… which now had come full circle with Debbie’s personal triumph.
And I knew it was a job well done, because for more than a year following her double mastectomy, revision and implants, my wife mostly kept her reconstruction and scars to herself, keeping a towel or shirt on even after showering, not really wanting to look at the scars often and certainly not feeling fulfilled by the entire process. Now she was popping her top for family and close friends… showing off the handiwork which has given her a new outlook, a chance to feel whole again, a piece of redemption.
The day of diagnosis, April 13th, 2012, won’t ever be forgotten, but every day it becomes more of a distant memory. Since that day so much has happened physically, mentally, emotionally and even spelled out in the pages of a best-selling book for the world to share our story.
Today on Thanksgiving we are preparing to host family at our home for the annual gathering, and it seems fitting to bring this final chapter to a close. The one I didn’t have time to include in the pages of the book, but wanted to share on this most perfect of days for gratitude.
So let me end by saying… Thanks for caring.
Mark Brodinsky, Author
It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
#1 Best-Seller on Amazon