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How All This Began

by Anne Earley Hanson

I'm aware of the mounds of fat on my chest,
on loan, I joke, from the plastic surgeon
who made them, on loan
for the duration, for the rest of my life.
There is no going back.

I stand in the mist of a shower just done,
toweling them off.  "Sweeties," I say,
for the first time calling them anything,
"Sweeties, would you like to wear a bra to yoga today?"
Silence. As usual.
"Well," I ask, "how are you doing,
coming along with me wherever I go?"
Silence again, like the numbness,
still there.

If only I knew how all this began!
Where was I when cancer came to me,
tiny, unseen, breaking the cellular rules
in its desire to expand?

The silence deepens.
I close my eyes.

March 2003.

I watch in horror as the tanks of my country
rumble across the desert toward Baghdad
and inside my breast a cell divides  --
of this I have no knowledge.
My breasts harbor rude cells programmed to procreate.
Clustered comfortably in my lobules,
those miracles that once gave milk,
they slowly, lasciviously, tear themselves
apart, becoming two where one had been
    then four
    then eight

Shaped like worms, like fuzzy balls, shaped like
oval lily pads, slowly, inexorably each one forms
a vertical line of division that widens, deepens,
snaps! A new cell slips silently away every two months.
Every two months. Every two months.

    five hundred and twelve
    one thousand and twenty -four
    two thousand and forty-eight

Like tanks destroying neighborhoods
the cells in my breasts waddle into warm damp corners,
push against walls, crush furniture and keepsakes
while I, in my despair, craft pantomime
street theater against the loss of our Bill of Rights,
loss of habeus corpus, loss of sanity.

    thirty-two thousand seven hundred sixty-eight
    sixty-five thousand five hundred thirty-six
    one hundred thirty-one thousand seventy-two

I vacation in Illinois, Ohio, California.
Drive to Georgia, wander in caves underground 
amazed at the water, the graffiti decorated rocky walls,
and outside, at the huge bank of flowers.
Colonies of cells huddle in each breast, 
breeding in the dark, piling and plunging
up and over each other like wisteria.

two million ninety-seven thousand one hundred fifty-two
four million one hundred ninety-four thousand three hundred and four
eight million three hundred eighty-eight thousand six hundred and eight

Years pass.
One summer Aunt Gloria disappears into Alzheimer's, 
laughing as she reads the news.
One fall my daughter struggles with her pain, faces fear. 
We take extreme measures to save her health.
One winter my lover diverts into a side affair
leaving me dangling as the days shorten.
The cells expand, bulge out of the lobules,
finally thrusting through the wall into the streets, 
seeking to travel.

sixty-seven million one hundred and eight thousand eight hundred sixty-four
one hundred thirty-four million two hundred seventeen thousand, seven hundred twenty eight
two hundred ninety-eight million four hundred thirty-five thousand four hundred fifty-six

For five years the cells split and divide.
Tanks cross the border from Kuwait,
invading neighborhoods, dividing Iraq. 
We are diverted from peace into quarrels.
Red vs. Blue. Us vs Them. Al Quaida, the troops,
cells in a frenzy, dividing, multiplying 
forming irregular boundaries
unorganized chaotic masses.
People grabbing riches.
Greed in high places.

March 2008.

J P Morgan buys out Bear Sterns,
people lose money. Obama stands up
and says race doesn't matter.
The Doctor looks neutral: 
"It's positive," he says,
"for invasive lobular carcinoma."

Anne, the mother of two daughters, was born in Illinois. She has worked in graphic design and physical therapy. Now retired, Anne is a storyteller in a local guild -- folk tales, myths, etc. She was diagnosed with bilateral invasive lobular carcinoma in 2008, and began writing poetry on a regular basis. She seeks to further this interest by reading at open mics, joining a writing group, and publishing her work. She recently enjoyed facilitating a poetry session for her cancer support group.