Category Archives: Breast Cancer

#119: Cancer Language


We are learning a new language now
and it’s called breast cancer,
pouring over the pathology
report, trying to make sense
of her malignant neoplasm, 
surrounded by subcutaneous
fat with features
consistent with healing
a surgical incision.

The biopsy shows
features consistent with
the previous biopsy,
ductal carcinoma in situ,
lobular intraepithelial
neoplasia, and fibrocystic
changes. 4.0 centimeters
from medial to lateral,
2.5 centimeters from
anterior to posterior,
1.7 centimeters from
superior to inferior,
right laterality, 3:00.
But here’s something
we understand: no
invasive carcinoma in
this sample–but then
there’s this ductal
carcinoma in situ
making its second
appearance.  Grade 3,
9 millimeters of DCIS.
Necrosis present and focal.
More good news,
we think: lymphovascular
invasion, not identified;
nipple, not applicable;
skin, uninvolved;
skeletal muscle, not applicable;
surgical margins, (part B).

Finally, we like the sound
of the following, only some
of which is included in
the gross description:
Estrogen receptor, 100% strong;
Progesterone receptor, 100% strong;
Proliferation rate, intermediate.
Will to live, 100% strong;
Hope over despair, 100% strong;
Gratitude, 100% strong;
Health, normal, except for
the feeling that a part of her
is missing, and the
anticipation of follow-up
treatments for an illness
for which she feels not
a single symptom, the
unspoken, unwritten
cancer language,
against which, we find
love, 100% strong,
to be the most effective

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Filed under Breast Cancer, Poetry

#91: Playing the Breast Cancer Awareness Game


“Just used my boobs to get out of a speeding ticket”
is a post I’ve read now a half dozen times
by both men and women
that is supposedly part of a game being played
on the social media
to raise awareness for breast cancer.
The boob thing is among other random and bizarrely
uncharacteristic quips to choose from,
many having nothing to do with boobs,
such as, damn diarrhea, or, anyone
have a tampon, or, I decided to stop wearing
underwear, or, I’m sick of hiding it: I’m gay,
or, my personal favorite, why is no one
ever around when I’m horny.
Now, the rules of the game seem to be
that when someone likes or comments on such a
ridiculous post, they are then asked to make
a similar ridiculous post and it goes on and on.
This is supposed to raise awareness
for breast cancer. How it does this,
however, remains a mystery.
I doubt not the good intentions
of all those who claim to have used
their boobs in such a way,
but my awareness of breast cancer
has been made quite vivid of late
(without the aid of a silly internet game)
as I’ve watched my love go through a
lumpectomy, a sentinel node biopsy,
a barrage of tests, appointment after
appointment with the primary care doctor,
the surgeon, the oncologist, the radiologist,
nurse upon nurse upon nurse, and one
more lumpectomy scheduled in for good measure,
and none of this takes into account
the real bitch about breast cancer,
the fear, the inevitable and often
early taking stock, the coming to terms
with one’s mortality. This is how our
awareness has been raised, and might
perhaps offer a different model for
the consciousness raising of others
truly interested in the endeavor,
the way many of our dearest friends have done it:
get to know a survivor, take care of those
in the throes, cook a meal, run a relay,
sing a song, write a poem.


Filed under Breast Cancer, Culture, Poetry

#84: The Breast Cancer Poem


We pulled the mammogram call-back letter
out of the mailbox on Christmas day.
The rest is a blur of fearful unknowing–
until the biopsy, and then waiting for
the results of the biopsy, and then getting
acquainted with the strangeness of saying,
yes, I have cancer, or, yes, my wife has cancer.
Early detection, a tiny tumor, a good prognosis,
all points lead in a positive direction,
and yet, the weight of the diagnosis,
the fact that a surgery is determined
necessary (my dear wife has never in her life
been under general anesthesia),
the outside chance that it’s worse than expected
or that it’s spread or that it will come back,
all are heavy burdens despite the good news.
We count our blessings up, over and over,
but it’s hard not to be pissed off, and it’s
hard not to be fearful and it’s a strain
to have to try to be strong through it all.
And yet, what choice do we have?
We have these new identities, now,
and the company of millions of survivors,
many of whom orbit our lives and
fill us with their strength and resolve,
and friends, taking good care of us
throughout, bringing us meals, saying
their prayers or thinking their good thoughts,
they hold us in their generous, loving embraces.

Recovering from the first surgery, there’s
good news and bad.  First, no cancer is found
in the lymph nodes; it hasn’t spread, the best
possible outcome.  And yet, the pathology
reveals that there may be cancer cells on
the periphery of that first tumor, and that
maybe, likely, most certainly now, they will
have to go in again to get the cancer they missed
the first time around.

2014 has sucked, thus far, in more ways
than one, but mostly because of cancer.
My wife will kick its ass, we keep saying,
and we believe it, still, even after this
most recent disappointment; we are as sure
of her survival as we are that the sun
will rise and fall again tomorrow.
And we are thankful beyond measure
for our relative good fortune, blessings
at every turn, our loving little family,
our dear beloved friendships, and the
gift each day of doing with our time
exactly what we want to be doing:
enriching our lives and the lives of
young people with music and literature,
raising a beautiful boy into a caring,
compassionate young man, and making
yet another rock and roll record.
We look not simply to survive,
but to thrive; in every way, to live.


Filed under Breast Cancer, Poetry