Anyone who reads my blog is probably aware that I have an unholy obsession with preserving foods, and that in 17 days I will undergo a life-changing operation, a double-mastectomy with reconstruction done on my healthy breasts.

I’ve always cooked, and frankly eaten (hello, new 20-lb gut), to deal with stress, but lately, perhaps because I’m amputating body parts, we’ve taken that to extremes. During a 3-day jag last week we made bread, banana bread, cookies, cured salmon, canadian bacon, chicken gyros, pierogis, spatchcock chicken, poached salmon and tzatziki. I swear I inherited this from my father, who once bought a whole ham for himself and the six-year-old me while my mom was in the hospital with cancer. My marriage’s recent focus on charcuterie, eaten, of course, with homemade pickles, is really a focus on preserving the current moment, which for me means the last few days with my natural breasts.

Last week, my husband and I took this idea of preservation from the metaphoric into the literal. On Thursday we removed the stiff salmon from its cure and set the cured pork tenderloin in a low oven to dry into Canadian bacon, and then I asked my husband to cast my chest in plaster, so I’d be able to remember what my breasts looked like.

With cans of beer in hand, he laid the wet bandages across my chest; in a few weeks they will be replaced with real bandages. I could feel the cool plaster molding to me, but slowly, it grew stiff, and I could no longer feel his hands smoothing the edges of each strip down, just pressure on top of the carapace that had become my chest. I wondered if this is how I will feel after I recover, because the operation comes with permanent loss of nerve sensation in my chest.

When the plaster was as stiff as the salmon we’d taken out of its sugary cure, I peeled the cast off. It’s a nice, light, and rectangular, but looks vaguely funeral, disembodied, like the work of sculptor George Segal, like my breasts are about to be.

*Photo: The Venus di Milo. She’s just like me, except better-looking, harder, proof that beauty can endure despite a double amputation.
Preserved: Fresh Salmon, Parts of My Body
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