In the days leading up to my double mastectomy, I distracted myself with busy work, trying to ignore the inescapable fact that this operation meant bidding my breasts an eternal goodbye. They are only flesh, but they fed my babies and filled my bikinis. I would miss them. As surgery loomed, I had an epiphany: if I cast my chest in plaster, I could preserve it forever.
I'm no artist, but the longing to save my breasts trumped my lack of talent. Then procrastination trumped my longing; 48 hours before surgery I had no idea how to proceed. Luckily, I mentioned my plan to a friend with breast cancer. She knew another patient who has cast scores of breasts for women stung by our communal scourge. She promised to call Hannah pronto.
But just 18 hours before surgery, no Hannah. Panicked, I called an art supply store in San Francisco. It carries casting kits, and I could just get there, get home and get plastered before bed.
So many kits. My brain froze. Quick-dry? Slo-dry? With an accelerator? Without? A helpful clerk asked about my project. "I'm having a mastectomy tomorrow and want to preserve my breasts for a souvenir." He didn't flinch. "Go to Douglas and Sturgess on Bryant. Buy their plaster gauze."
The clerk there gently explained proper gauze casting technique: "Cut the gauze into one-inch rectangular strips, soak them in warm water, layer them six-deep, rig a cord round your neck to hold the cast taut while it hardens. It's pretty easy, just messy." Just like cancer: easy to get, messy to fix.