One of the most touching moments I’ve experienced with a patient was when I was caring for a woman who had just gone through a double mastectomy for breast cancer.

“Ruth” was a lovely woman in her sixties, with a porcelain complexion and perfectly coiffed hair. Her husband “Ted” was a constant companion at her bedside, leaving only after visiting hours were over to get a few hours of sleep. He returned every morning with a fresh-cut rose from Ruth’s garden.

I was working nightshift and Ruth was a night owl, so I got to know her quite well during her hospital stay. A true Southern belle, Ruth was a delight to talk to. A spirited conversationalist with a fiery wit, she talked about her whirlwind courtship with Ted when she was nineteen, their three children and five grandchildren, and how she and Ted had traveled all over the world.

The second day after her surgery, I chatted with her as I dispensed her evening medications. Her surgeon had left orders to remove the surgical drains from her chest and change her dressings. I asked her if she wanted to go ahead and do it now or wait for Ted to go home.

 Ruth didn’t answer at first. She looked over at her husband of fifty years and I knew what she was thinking. She was worried what his reaction would be at seeing her for the first time.

“Might as well do it now,” he said softly, and Ruth nodded.

I took off the ace wraps encircling her chest and then removed the thick pads of gauze covering her incisions. I stood back as Ted came to her side and looked down at his wife’s radically changed body. Tears filmed Ruth’s eyes as she asked, “Well... what do you think?”

Ted took her hand in both of his and said, “Darlin’, so long as you’re still here with me, I think you’re beautiful.”

Ruth burst into tears, and I left the room to shed a few of my own.


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