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A Body Scarred, a Marriage Healed

I GOT the call on a sunny July morning in 2001, while my husband was at work and my children were in day care, and big, blowzy roses bloomed like crazy all over my backyard. According to the biopsy, the milk ducts of my right breast were riddled with cancer cells. Latent cells, at the moment, but if they ever took it into their pointy little heads to detonate, the oncologist said, all hell could break loose.

He suggested we go for the pre-emptive strike and fight it. And who was I to argue? One of my late-life babies was still in diapers, the other barely able to write his name. We would try a lumpectomy, we decided. If that didn't work, we would just cut the breast off.

My husband took the news of my illness stoically, almost as if it was something he already knew. Not so much as an arched eyebrow revealed surprise or dismay. Like many men, he prefers take-charge calm to histrionics. So, for that matter, do I. But that night, there was no sleep for me: I lay in the dark, trembling and alone with my fears. My husband could live without me, I knew. He had done so before -- by choice. Despite his bouts of ambivalence about our marriage -- and consequently, mine -- I have been with (and without, and then with again) this man for more than a quarter of a century. Not all scars are visible to the naked eye.