When I discovered you were living in my breast two years ago, I thought you were a cyst. I thought about you, talked to you and then dismissed you. Please forgive me for not taking you seriously. I Googled you and read articles about you from the Mayo Clinic and Cancer.gov. “Cancer was not supposed to hurt.” But you caused me discomfort.
“Cancer was not supposed to hurt.” I repeat that because it was seared into my brain, with a medical branding iron. Regardless of what the articles said, dearest tumor, you did hurt. You hurt me, daily. A dull throb, but a reminder that you, oh tumor of mine, was there. Heat packs and ice packs relieved the pain. “Cancer was not supposed to hurt.”
They were wrong.
When I first discovered you were living in my breast, I was not overly concerned. I thought you would go away eventually. Stress and fatigue were the cause, I was sure. I waited for you to disappear. You did not go away. I thought about going to my primary care doctor but I kept putting it off.
There were distractions that kept me from finding out about you. First a trip to Germany to visit my daughter. You rode well on the airplane overseas and remained calm on our Lufthansa flight. We went to France, too, and enjoyed the wine and the croissants. We came back from our trip and we went to the doctor, you and I. We talked about stress and life and past skin disorders. We decided to wait it out for a while. We were ok with that preliminary diagnosis.
Another major life event occurred. Father died. He passed after a year of illness at 100 years of age. We worried daily, hourly, by the minute about him. This robust man had become so frail in mind and body. We had taken care of him every weekend for three years. We retired early. We gave up our social life. We did not mind as we loved our father. But we think that started the tension that caused you to grow.
Finally, we returned to the doctor four months after our initial visit. Do you remember that visit? “The lump is there,” I said. “It still hurts.”
“Cancer is not supposed to hurt,” the doctor said again. “Let’s pursue this.”
Next day, mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy performed at hospital. Day after that, phone call from doctor. “You have cancer.”
Bingo! I had won the jackpot of life. I had cancer and you, my dear little 5cm tumor were cancerous. You little devil, how you deceived us, how you strung me along for months. I felt like I was in the middle of an Edgar Allan Poe tale. You were my Tell-Tale Tumor, My Tumor and the Pendulum, my Fall of the House of Tumor- “quoth the tumor, nevermore-” you were creepy and you scared me.
We went to see the surgeon. After an hour of waiting we realized the cancer center was named after him. Were we impressed? The oncology nurse spoke about him reverently. A bit in love with him? We thought so. When he entered with two student doctors in training, I expected trumpets to blare. They were in awe of him and embarrassed of me, old woman with wrinkles, exposing lumpy breast. The surgeon proceeded to tell us about the imminent surgery and what we would expect. Lumpectomy, wasn’t that a great word, Ms. Tumor? I had assigned you a gender, I would have liked to make you non-binary but my addled brain felt you were more sympathetic as a woman. Perhaps in another life, Ms. Tumor, you were a woman, struggling with cancer and worried about death.
A date for the surgery was arranged.
The tumor was removed, we were parted, we couldn’t even see each other afterwards. There was no forwarding address, nowhere to text, no Facebook page where we could send each other birthday greetings. Chemo and radiation were endured to prevent your return. We were through as a dynamic duo and continue to be through.
Although we lived together for half a year and communicated daily, you are now a dim memory. I am glad we are not keeping in touch.
REFLECTION ON UNEVEN BREASTS
ONE UP, ONE WAY DOWN
FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER SCARS, COOL!
I CAN SCARE MYSELF
ODE TO MY SCARS (apologies to J. Keats)
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, my scarred body,
Thou foster-child of stunned silence and time moving too fast,
I see the scars-
battle wounds of living-
Lymph nodes removed- no worries!
Breast tumor scraped out- no problems!
Basal cell on breast- cut it out, please Mr. Bojangles Mohs, I can dance to my pain.
And I did, I do often. We like to tap dance around our flaws.
Lyphoid on chest, less scar, more redness, like a Mars planet on my body.
Took one month for oncologist to say, hey, you ain’t dying yet of skin cancer, woo-hoo! Break out the champagne. Although you know alcohol can cause cancer, and give you more scars. What the hell, life is a crap shoot, anyway.
Who am I kidding? Yet is the operative word. One is never sure, after having cancer once, after being scratched and scarred and scared, if it will come back.
REFLECTIONS ON OLD FACE
ROAD MAP BELOW CHIN ALL GOOD
PEARLS, SCARVES, GLAMOUR NOOSE, WHY NOT?
Wrinkles are a sign of experience of life and living, but at what cost? The smooth yet shallow visage of youth, becomes slightly looser in middle age, allowing in more conflict and more wisdom. Less trusting, after some hurts, after some failures- the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, you etched a new look in my face.
When did you start to appear wrinkles? When did you begin to live on my skin? I think around the age of 50 or so- right after menopause started to drain my body of youthful fluids, like an oil change that was required, important for maintenance, but was not allowed to happen.
Wrinkles, you appeared slowly, gradually. One day I looked in the mirror and said, hey, I look just like my mother. It might have been the narrowing of the mouth or the way eyeglasses changed the shape of the face, or it might have been the hint of jowls that appeared above the throat.
Senior citizens, as we squint in the mirror, observing the ruined throat, the bags under the eyes, the grooves near the mouth that have spoken, cried, railed and laughed for decades, still can love ourselves, with or without you, oh wrinkles.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Thanks John Keats, for that, but as I gained more truth, I lost more beauty.
Or is it in the eye of my beholders?
I need to figure myself out.
REFLECTION ON LOSING HAIR
MUSTARD GAS, RIGHT? DOUGHBOYS DIED
I LIVED, BALD HEAD SHONE
MY CROWNING GLORY- MESSAGE TO MY HAIR
Kermit the frog used to sing, “It’s not easy being green.” I must add, “It’s not easy being bald.” Hair, when you fell out before my second round of chemotherapy, I felt you had let me down. I was sure you were not going to leave me. But you did, every day for two weeks, like a bad love affair, a little at a time, dwindling, receding and finally kaput.
After your departure, as I looked in the mirror every morning, I resembled an aging blackjack dealer in a Godfather movie. Bald, big nose, huge puffy steroid gut- I was the Vinnie Boombatz of cancer patients. I bought wigs I didn’t wear because they were hot and scratchy, I bought head scarves that I wore daily that made me look like a punk, aging Long John Silver.
I waited for you, o hair, like waiting for that bad, elusive love to return. After six months of worry, you started to come back. After eight months, I put away the scarves and looked at my wiry, greying hair that sprouted in all directions. I looked different but I had hair. You had come back to me. Now I dye you red and violet, and get frequent haircuts. I won’t do Bille Eilish green, but I will be colorful. Put up with me, hair, we’ve known each other a long time.
RELFECTIONS ON RUINED THROAT
SIXTY-EIGHT YEARS LIFE
LINES, SPOTS- SMILES BETTER THAN BOTOX
GROOVES AND STILL GROOVY- COOL
LETTER TO MY NECK
I am sorry that you have become the proverbial pain, but that’s what has transpired over the last two years. Sleeping with three little dogs in a twin bed required a flexibility and stamina that no amount of Pilates or downward dog could ever give me. Think about it. 14 legs in one bed and only two of them were mine. We were not part of a show at a Ringling Brothers or Cirque du Soleil circus; we were the strange reality of my life. This strange arrangement ruined you, sorry neck. But we were taking care of our Dad and so sleeping in his home, in the twin bed that my dead Mother had slept in. Dad slept in the Lazy-Boy chair in the den. We tried to manage. You remember how hard I tried, don’t you?
I must also blame three months of an estrogen blocking drug, given to breast cancer survivors for hurting you, o neck of mine. It was supposed to prevent breast cancer from coming back, but it also caused osteoporosis. Dear neck, I know how stiff you became, I am sorry for the pain.
So, goodbye, cancer medication Letrozole, hello life. I had to choose between upping the percentage of cancer coming back and not being able to lift you, my poor neck, out of the bed every morning, without calling for the Triple A tow truck to hoist you up and out.
So, dear neck, I hope that you feel better most mornings. The pillow we bought on Amazon that resembles a cross, seems to make you happy. Hot packs at night make you swoon; I am glad I can comfort you. Scarves keep you warm in the winter, large hats keep you from burning in the summer. We try our best.
REFLECTION ON DENTAL IMPLANTS
15 THOUSAND BUCKS
SWOLLEN CHIPMUNK FACE, NO FUN!
I am sorry three of you fell out after my cancer treatment. Chemo dries out the mouth, the docs told us. I tried my best to replace you and keep your friends happy in my mouth. Four implants shored up the gum line and I think even filled out my smile. You are gone but not forgotten.
I need two more implants, and I promise to treat the rest of you guys with respect and concern. Turning into a toothless old crone does not place highly on my list of life’s goals and expectations. We old ladies still have our vanity and like to chew food.
So, hang in there, teeth of mine, and enjoy the vibrating chair, the wide screen TV and the lavender scented hot towels we get after another session with our dentist. You like him, don’t you? He’s very sweet, like my son.
I promise to take you on a vacation soon. As soon as the entire Earth gets vaccinated.
As Julius Caesar said,
“Veni, vidi, vici-“
May I say-
I was born, I aged, I triumphed.
As Bugs Bunny says-
That’s all folks.