Breast Cancer Survivor

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In the year 2003, I am 35
working, raising a child, trying to get by.
I go to the women’s clinic for my yearly probe.
It becomes more than a matter of routine
when the nurse says, “Hey you’re 35 and
that means, baseline mammogram time.”
No big deal, a lot of women do it.
I make the appointment and get my breasts
clamped, so a technician can take the screens.
I go to work. I go about my business.
In the year 2003, I am 35
working, raising a child, trying to get by.
Within a week, I get the call.
The left side is dense.
They need to take another look.
So once again, I return to get
my left breast clamped,
down hard and good.
In a sterile machine.
In a sterile room.
I did not know what was going to happen,
when an attendant asked, “follow me.”
She led me quietly to yet another sterile room.
I’m placed on a table, as I see
the sonogram machine, being fully
loaded and prepared just for me.
While a cold probe explores my left breast,
I watch the ladies chat amongst themselves.
Then, the room falls silent.
One of the technicians leaves
and returns with the doctor who wants
to see the strange mysterious lump,
the one that looks “suspicious.”
Suspicious is not a good word.
I started to feel fear.
In the year 2003, I am 35
working, raising a child, trying to get by.
The nurse calls and tells me my doctor
wants me to be seen by a surgeon,
who can take a further look at me.
I make the appointment and see the surgeon,
who wants to perform a biopsy.
I’m told not to worry; after all it’s a
common procedure and a mere precaution.
No big deal; a lot of women do it.
Two weeks later the biopsy is done.
A few days later, driving I-74,
I make the call that changes my life.
The nurse tells me she is sorry
to give me such terrible news.
The pathologist calls it
invasive ductal carcinoma.
The insurance company calls it
a malignant neoplasm of the breast.
I call it breast cancer.
In the year 2003, I am 35
working, raising a child, trying to get by.
A partial mastectomy permanently
alters my breast, which no amount
of reconstruction will ever fix.
The chemo takes my hair.
Radiation burns break my skin.
I seek support and learn a lot, but
I just can’t identify with the women,
who are older and have partners
to help them weather the rough seas
of treatment and recovery.
No one in the group is 35,
working, raising a child, trying to get by.
My daughter turns 11 and feels all alone;
adrift in the world, which has suddenly
dropped out from under her.
It’s hard for a child to have
a mom with breast cancer.
She thought I was going to die.
All her life, I’ve been
both mother and father.
She becomes depressed and withdrawn.
I get her professional help.
In spite of my sickness, I try to be
a good mom, caring, loving, and attentive.
She is only 11 and I’m still her mom.
In sickness and in health, it’s my job.
In the year 2003, I am 35
working, raising a child, trying to get by
I’m alone, but I have my god, who
has traveled with me, near and far.
I’m a survivor.
I’m alive.
I don’t know how much time I have on earth,
but it’s up to me to make the most of it.
I’ve come to terms with my mortality
and the fragility of life.
I look forward to seeing my daughter
become a young woman.
In the process there are things
I have learned. Every moment
needs to be valued and appreciated.
Take the risk to love; to grow,
to smell the flowers.
I am a breast cancer survivor;
not a breast cancer victim.

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