You don't quite know where to look as you fiddle with my pathology report between your thumb and forefinger and fumble for just the right words. I see it has caught you off guard too and for an instant, that makes us almost equals, but no, you are young enough to be my daughter and I feel almost sorry for you in your obvious distress. I wonder how many times you have had to break the news to a patient while struggling for the right mix of emotion and professional detachment. You didn't do too badly, all things considered. What about me? Did I strike just the right balance of rational acceptance, intellectual curiosity, grim determination or did my fear show through? It's not really a fair comparison though seeing as how you've had so much more practice than me this being after all only my first time. You get to walk out of this room a free woman perhaps even now speaking the same words to another hapless victim, I mean survivor, in the next room while I gather up my belongings, scanning the room just one more time to make sure I haven't left pieces of myself behind. Already I've forgotten exactly how you put it but I'm pretty sure you didn't use the C word, that ugly, scary, taboo word. Malignancy I think you called it instead, but even with a euphemism it still comes out the same in the end, an unwanted growth that I have unwittingly been harboring in my body. I am no longer the same person who walked into this room less than an hour ago, carefree, already making plans for the rest of my day. I have undergone a metamorphosis, and now a line has been firmly drawn between my old self and the new me, the me that has suddenly been sent scrambling down a new path, a path I never chose. I try to ignore the questions bursting to the surface Why me? Why cancer? Why now? as I step out into the dappled October sunlight. Tomorrow, I will regroup and begin to pick up the pieces remembering that even Pandora was left with hope, and I will prepare my response to the alien invasion within, assembling my team and formulating a battle plan, and only then will I begin to move forward gingerly, one carefully measured step at a time. That is tomorrow. Today I set aside for grieving, a day of sorrow as I prepare to say goodbye forever to my pre-cancer self and step off into the unknown future.
Cara Holman is a freelance writer of personal essays, poetry and creative non-fiction. Her writings have appeared on the Literary Mama, Four and Twenty and WomenBloom websites. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and the youngest of her three children, and is a two-and-a-half year breast cancer survivor. A previous piece of hers entitled The Dogwood Tree, appeared in Volume No. VII of Survivor's Review. More of her writings can be found on her blog at caraholman.wordpress.com.