Posted by: jeanne | December 5, 2008

cancerart 14

bra22 my girl, with bra and fabric strips basted or pinned on

i went up to my surgeon’s office yesterday. they made me wait. that’s funny. it’s a rule in a doctor’s office, even if you’re only there to say hi and give away xmas presents, you still have to wait. i showed up with three scarves for the office manager, the nurse, and the doctor, and of course the office manager got first choice, she’s the one at the window. but still the doctor complained that she only got the leavings. oh well. does that mean i should take in one real winner, or even two, and then include an ugly got-to-bleach-out scarf just so she can have something to complain about?

but they gave me some surgical sutures. i got back in the car and ripped one open. it has a sterile easy-to-open package thing. i can just see them sitting there on a sterile tray in the OR. the package can be opened with surgical gloves on. it’s a little cardboard card with about 18″ of monofilament threat (that’s fishing line) attached to a wicked 3/8 curved needle. there’s no eye to the needle, it’s attached to the thread somehow, permanently. the needle tip is triangular, and looks like a three-sided razor blade. sharp as fuck. (i would say sharp as shit except shit’s not at all sharp. anyway, i only mean expletive-to-be-deleted, i’m not referring to any given meaning for shit and fuck. lest, when i get off on one of my sexual politics riffs, you think sharp as fuck refers to anything particular.  (interesting aside in my brain. i wonder if this current emphasis on ‘marriage means one man and one woman’ can be conflated with the sentiment ‘all sex is about men abusing women.’ sure, i guess, if you label them both wrongheaded and onesided.) anyway.) i still have to learn how to make actual hospital-grade stitches.

so i ran downstairs, sutures in my hand, and put them aside.

there’s my canvas with small holes in the middle of it. there’s my bra stiffened on one side and ready to be attached to the canvas. there’s the breast form to fill out the other side of the bra. using sutures is the second step. i have to tack the bra in place with basting thread. was i foresighted enough to leave a needle and thread in the painting studio instead of where my sewing supplies are upstairs? yes i was. and red, too.

so i whipped out a couple of yards, tore it with my teeth, and then had to find a pair of scissors to cut a clean end to fit thru the needle’s eye. my teeth have shifted in my mouth in all these years. i can no longer cut a thread between my front teeth; they don’t meet in the middle anymore. but that’s okay, because i can’t see close enough to thread a needle anyway. great joke, that.

the red thread tangles as i pass it from the painted side of the canvas thru the bra. i hate tangles, and am thinking of just leaving it there to represent blood. but that’s sloppy workmanship, and i want all the sloppy stuff on the back. blood’s too obvious. bruises would be better. you should have seen the bruise that built up on my left breast when they did that last marathon exploratory of my right breast before cutting it off. i don’t think i took any pictures of it. i was too much in shock to see the creeping purple and brown and green across my chest like hands reaching from the grave. but jim remembers.

i went around the stiffened bra and sewed it down as close to the outer edge as i could, using mostly invisible stitching, every inch about. on the back the stitches show; it’s nothing but stitches in doubled red thread. pretty rough. but there i was sewing from the side of the canvas, with my left hand working the painted side of the canvas, and the right hand poking the needle thru the back side. but rough’s okay.

when i got to the empty bra cup i had to stop, because it wouldn’t sew on in the same shape empty as full. so i got the bag of silicone and stuffed it into the sleeve inside the bra cup, and then sewed the bra to the canvas. i’m afraid that at some point around the top of the bra i managed to drive my needle right thru the plastic bag of silicone. i’ts at the top of the form, is the only good thing i can say about that. and i can use gel medium to seal the leak, which stilll has the thread running thru it, and drawn tight against the bra and canvas, so maybe it won’t leak as badly as it could. but i can’t use it as part of a normal disguise anymore.

one of the hazards of being a surgeon. one little slip and somebody’s disfigured or ruined forever. as i cut out the spare canvas inside the stitching line, i put myself in the place of the doctor who cut my breast off. it’s a routine job. just snip snip here, tug and pinch there. it’s not my body i’m carving on, just a piece of canvas, but i felt like i was working over a still, breathing, warm form. especially when i looked at the results and they weren’t hanging right. there was a hollow in the chest between the two bra halves. not a cleavage, mind you, but extra skin. so i undid the center stitching on the top of the bra and redid it, tugging at the skin and getting the bra higher. taking up the tension and slack. kind of like a face lift. breast reconstruction.

then when i’d finished basting the bra on, and cutting away the extra canvas with a razor – all surgical procedures – i took gel medium and went over the outside of the stiffened bra, like antibiotic cream, because the next step is to paint hair over it and ineed to prepare the surface. like giving her a wig after chemo and radiation.

the bra was manufactured by some company that sounds like ameoba, and it’s a division of mastoplast industries or something. all this artifice is starting my skin to crawl. you can get skin to crawl in oil paintings by using lean over fat or way thinned out pigment. the parallels between creating a painting and creating a body are amazing. and here i am doing surgery on a created body. hwaaahahaha evil laugh.

today i plan to learn the stitches off the internet, and go downstairs to the studio and sew at least around the underwire if not all around the top of the bra as well, depending on how far 18″ lengths of suture will go. and then i’m trying to find the pink ribbon that i bought a month ago gathering supplies for this project. i know it was sitting on some horizontal surface the last time i saw it…could be anywhere now. i have so many places full of junk that doesn’t belong there. just waiting to be used as art.

the breast form slumps in its net inside the bra cup. this is a problem. if it were lying flat it would look just like a breast but it looks like a soggy wet diaper at the moment. so i need somehow to give it a solid side wall so that it doesn’t slump backwards. that cold be a stiff plastic shield, but then you couldn’t touch it. i could run ribbon around the bra cup like a spider web, and you could touch it thru the ribbon, but that seems less than satisfactory. so i’m not sure how i’ll fix that. and now that’s it’s sewn into the cup because i pierced it, i can’t remove it to do the rest of the sewing and so i risk yet anouther permanent disfigurement if i make the wrong move. the pressure of being a surgeon. if you can’t focus, somebody dies, and that’s not right.

i was looking at my dyed fabric test strip all this while. i had test dyed a 6″ strip of canvas when i was doing my sister’s ex-quilt wallhanging ( and it turned out to be the exact colors of my kid’s skirt. and having a bra on display to be touched still won’t get it touched if it’s the only touchable thing on the painting (we were too damned inculcated with our mothers’ ‘don’t touch, dear’, and they paid too much attention to propriety. things are supposed to be touched. grrr.)

so i took the strip of canvas and tried it vertically. when i looked at it before, i was using it hoizontally just over the wistband. but i was thinking about those pleats, so i was very happy to learn that there was just enough material to make 5 strips, which would cover the bottom of the skirt exactly. all i have to do is sew them in at the top and tack them along their lengths, and i’ll have a real skirt that you can touch and smooth.

much less threatening to go ahead and touch than a breast, wouldn’t you think?

i think i’m going to put my c-section scar on the back. i can suture it. my kid came from there, after all. ooh, and i can leave a gap in the skirt fabric so that you can reach in and feel the scar. i like that idea.

the whole idea is to invite people to see what it’s like to have a mastectomy, an instant mini experience complete with painful bits and uncomfortable reflections.

you know, i went looking for the lymphedema compression sleeve i had when i first got all my lymph nodes stripped away during my mastectomy. i was going to cut it up and use it as wrist restraints on the back side of the canvas. but i threw it away. at some point i was going thru some phase of the grieving process, or just spring cleaning, and i tossed my compression sleeve, and the sports bra that went with my breast form. very interesting, psychologically. ‘i’ll never need these again’. but i neglected to look at them as art supplies, and instead tossed them out as sumbols of the emotions that i had attached to these items.

ooh. maybe i should use the suture thread to create the webbing for the breast form. but now to learn how to make proper stitches.

bra23 bra attached to back of canvas with red thread all around, breast form ill-fitting in left cup, stiffened cup on right



  1. Jeanne what a full post this is.

    I love how the picture is coming and I love the skirt and bra, makes it much more touchable. Reading the post was difficult too because I felt that you must in some ways have been repeating what happened to you.


    Love Renee

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