When I picked up my purse today, I discovered that I’d left a zipper open and a number of cards fell out onto the floor. One of them was my medical device identification card.

Going to the airport with a tissue expander? Don't leave this at home.

Going to the airport with a tissue expander? Don’t leave this at home.

I received this card on 9/26/12. That was the day of my tissue expander placement surgery, nearly two months after my mastectomy. Tissue expanders are usually used to stretch the pectoral muscles and skin prior to implant surgery. In my case, it was basically used as a place holder and a skin stretcher during the six months prior to my TRAM reconstruction.

I remember thinking that this card was kind of funny. The tissue expander looks like a poached egg. The “yolk” is a magnet. Tissue expanders are gradually filled with saline over a several month period. (This is one of the reasons that breast reconstruction can take such a long time, by the way.) There is a port in the expander, which it can be filled using a syringe. A “stud finder” type device is used to locate the magnet, which marks the way to the port, and tells the surgeon where to place the syringe full of saline. It’s really kind of an elegant design. A couple of magnets, a plastic bag, and syringes of saline. The magnet is metal, which poses some problems at the airport. Hence, the card. On the back, it is signed and dated by my surgeon.

The expander served it’s purpose but it was weird. A friend of a friend called it a “breast like object.” I called it an, “undercover piroshky”. It was an odd shape and since mine was right under my skin, I could feel the outline of the metal and the firmness of the plastic. When I pressed on the skin over it, it was like pressing on the seal of a Tupperware lid. It set two inches higher than my left breast, and was flat on top, creating a shelf. I often joked that if I were a party girl, I could have balanced three shot glasses on that savory pastry shaped implant.

My expander was removed on March 11th, over four months ago. There’s transplanted abdominal tissue where that plastic expander used to be. So why is this card still in my purse? You might observe that you yourself, have all kinds of cards in your purse or wallet that are no longer of use. And if you don’t clean out your wallet or purse, cards accrue because everything has a card these days. However, my obsolete medical device card fell out of my purse today AND I PLACED IT BACK IN MY PURSE KNOWING FULL WELL THAT I NO LONGER NEED IT.

I’m not sure why I still have it except that the expander was part of my experience with breast cancer. The experience is still very much a part of me. For the past several weeks, I have been working on my grief and loss regarding breast cancer. And when one grieves one loss, other losses often bubble to the forefront. It is unpleasant work I am doing. There’s a reason there are no books out there like, Ten Awesome and Fun Ways to Grieve. But it is really important to do this work in order to heal.

I think I will always have souvenirs of cancer, the scars, the permanent lack of sensation in my right breast, and the memories. I have this blog.

I don’t need a breast cancer membership card.

I know who I am, where I have been, and where I belong.