Presence does not seem like such an optimal strategy when your breast is squished between two hard plastic plates, the technician prompting you to hold your breath and the rat-a-tat sound of technology like incoming wounded. I watch myself take a swift left turn into numbness and then just as quickly call myself back. There has been a lot of growth over twenty-six years of practice in this annual predicament. Breathe, be here, be grateful.
Frozen is an easier emotional state for me than angry, which is the other terrifying place I go in the face of unwanted medical procedure. Twice I’ve been called back for false positives, lingo for detection of something requiring a closer look via ultra-sound. My feeble attempts to turn it into a rich opportunity to be with extreme fear for a few days, like a prolonged bout of airplane turbulence, were not met with great success either. Luckily each call back resulted in a “woops…never mind.”
Each year I reluctantly return, despite current evidence that calls this procedure into question. And some well-meaning friends who poo-poo the whole thing. When your mother has died of breast cancer it changes your lens on current evidence, alternative outlooks, the fundamental orientation of Western medicine. I wrote the original version of this poem in 2002. I pulled it out today when I came home from the Imaging Center (what a euphemism) and amended it to reflect fourteen years of change. The compassionate doctor (Denny Anspach for those of you who remember) used to deliver results to you right after exam back then. How humane. Now I wait 7-10 days for a letter in the mail.
The air is thick, charged with dread hope.
I take solace in the emergent green
gracing naked stems everywhere.
Pink buds rise in early season warmth.
I whisper protection prayers for the walk home.
I drag myself through limbo, flanked by frosted glass,
green paperwork stamped with breasts,
the most personal of questions:
when was your last period, your first pregnancy
and how did your mother die?
This tender fleshly duality—astonishing me in youth,
immediate change agents of form and reality,
source of desire and delight for decades,
nourishing life into two babies—now pressed
into compliance by hands anonymous and sterile.
Clickety rick click: veiled rays piercing,
on the look out for wanton errant traces.
Abandoned now, numb with morbidity,
I cling to Gourmet, sure that even this
quiet comfort will be wrenched from me soon.
The door opens and a vision in white decrees
reprieve for yet another year,
sets me free from the color of cancer.
I drift back onto the street; those same pink buds
now open in gratitude and spectral light
glistens delicate with this annual pardon:
this time…not my turn.
Thanks for listening today…bella