DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Biopsy is one of the ugliest words in the dictionary. Benign is one of the most beautiful.
A few years ago, caught between biopsy and benign, I wrote down
some of my random thoughts:
Do I have enough time left to write the books I need to write?
If I buy one of those hospital food trays on wheels, can I mount my
computer on it, so when I drift out of the morphine haze, I will be able to
Why am I ashamed to tell people I might have breast cancer? I don't
think I can speak the words.
Would my husband, Randy, worry that he will catch it if he touches
me? I worried about that when my brother was dying, even though I knew it
Will my hair fall out? Will it grow back? Will it grow back pure white?
At least I will be thin again for a little while before I die.
Randy can pay off his college loans with the insurance money.
He'll be totally lost without me. He'll be so sad.
Will they have a memorial service for me? Will they tell stories
about me? Is there any way I can hear them now?
How can I let go of life? How does a person know how to die? Is it
easy, or hard to die? I'm not good at letting things go.
I've had a wonderful life. I've kept it interesting. I've had lots of
Randy will be here to help me. His love is the greatest gift I have
ever been given.
Maybe some day he'll write about me.
My family and friends will miss me terribly; I hate to hurt them
like that. I will hate to put them through the caretaking and the dying
I have a home I love. It's beautiful in here, even though almost
everything comes from a flea market or a second hand store.
Should my ashes be buried under the clematis in the back yard?
Or should I be buried in the front yard, so if Randy doesn't live
here any more, he can still visit me?
Even though I know it's cheaper and more practical to be
cremated, there's still a part of me that wants to have a thin carved slate
tombstone, like the ones we see in old cemeteries.
These were just some of my thoughts while I waited for the test
results. Every woman has her own. In my case, the breast tissue was benign.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it's hard not to be
aware of breast cancer all year long, any more than it's hard not to be
aware of lung cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, colon cancer or any
other kind of cancer, and I've been through them all with people I love.
You don't need a pink ribbon, a gossipy march or an envelope full of yogurt
lids. At this point, all you need is anger.
Tomorrow, October 18, is National Mammography Day. What is there to
celebrate? In the latest issue of Parade, tucked into Sunday newspapers
across the nation, Dr. Susan Love, a breast cancer expert, writes about the
ineffectiveness of mammograms: yearly mammography in women over 50 will
reduce the chance of dying of breast cancer by 30 percent.
"This is a lot, but it's not the 100 percent we all would like,"
That puts 70 percent of women with breast cancer out on ice floes
"The confusion you feel when you hear the latest reports may be
cause for gratitude," Love says cheerfully. "It's confusing because it
reflects the fact that we are doing more research. And that is our greatest
Maybe I'm not grateful enough for Dr. Love, but haven't women had
breasts for a while now? Why hasn't science already done this research? Why
don't we already have excellent diagnostic tests? And why are we being
asked to fund this research ourselves?
Here's a thought: for reasons surpassing understanding, many men
rely on women's breasts for sexual arousal. Maybe the pharmaceutical
companies can use their Viagra profits for breast cancer research. After
all, without breasts, Viagra sales might slow down.
Biopsy is one of the ugliest words in the dictionary, but there's
one that's far uglier. So far, it hasn't happened to me. But one of my
dearest relatives, who is 67 and has had a mammogram every year, just
started chemo. And one of my most cherished friends is fearfully waiting
for her test results right now.
And that is just for breast cancer. There are so many other kinds.
How many ice floes can we bear?
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture,
politics, economics and travel.
Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.