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  • Writer's pictureImagine a Bird

Imagine That

Updated: Apr 27

Driving in the dark well before autumn’s sunrise, she asked me about my day. What was I going to do for myself? She made suggestions for coffeeshops, cafés, bike paths…

Then she shared tidbits with me about the workings of her house – indoor plants and backyard grass and trees needing watering, the location of the litter scoop and little trash bags for the cat box… and she made gentle small talk about her Idaho town, in general.

One would never have guessed we were driving her to the hospital for a double mastectomy.

After 17 years of friendship, I wasn’t necessarily stunned to learn of Vattey's* grace, of her capacity for strength in the face of cancer and today’s surgery. But I was still in awe, and if I’d ever taken for granted our friendship, a hearty dose of thankfulness filled (or refilled) me up that morning.

When the surgical nurse led her away for prep, I walked through the still-dark morning to the car and drove back to her now-empty home. Vattey's long-haired cat curled up beside me, purring, when I crashed into a 2-hour nap.

Later that morning, I settled in to await phone call updates from the two surgeons – one, a breast cancer doctor; the other, a breast reconstruction physician. Vattey’s procedures were estimated to take about 11 hours, total.

At noon, the mastectomy doctor phoned. The procedure had gone well, Vattey’s vital signs remained stable, and she was awaiting the next surgeon’s reconstructive component of the process. The doctor said, “She’s an amazing woman. Very inspirational.” She said that during the pre-op appointments, she was struck by Vattey’s calming energy. I was taken aback – not because of the utter truth in all of this, but because this was my first time hearing such tender and enthusiastic observations from a physician, especially one who had just spent several hours in surgery.

The echo of this entire situation arrived in my head that afternoon: Vattey’s care team was comprised almost entirely of women.

The medical receptionists and schedulers

The surgery clerk

The prep-op nurse

The four friends who’d made the commitment to be in-home caregivers, one right after the other, for a month after the procedure

The friends who’d quickly signed up for her post-op “meal train,”

and the surgeons, themselves:

all females.

The effects of collaborating with these professionals and with Vattey’s other friends was soothing but also uplifting, and it occurred to me that these demonstrations of organizational skills, thoughtfulness, and kindness increased my chances of being an effective in-home caregiver. I was pumped up to be of service surrounded by these women.

I want more of this – sensations of both expertise and altruism. With the current state of my country and of the world, it’s no surprise that I am yet again imagining how changed our realities would be with more women in positions of directly impactful leadership and of public representation.

This is not, in the very least, an anti-men wish. It is a sensical dream in a patriarchy.

As for Vattey, five months after her mastectomy, she has since returned to her busy life. Lab results after the surgery came back free of cancer.

Onward –

working, surviving, nurturing


*Vattey asked that her real name and state be used.


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