In 2007 I was diagnosed with my third breast cancer tumor following a routine mammogram. Further testing showed I carry a BRCA 2 mutation, one of the genes which can lead to an increased risk of cancer. (My molecular genetics science-self found this to be a very interesting gene–as long as I didn’t think of it as affecting me.) I was stunned. This was 11 years after my previous cancer diagnosis and I thought I was done with all that.
It was summer. I sat on my garden swing in the back of the yard, to let the fear subside. I listened to my inner guidance and let the answer come to me…what to do? After gathering information and consulting with many people: doctors, family, dear friends, I decided to have the bilateral (double) mastectomy. Since I had so much radiation with the previous treatment, the tissue was very scarred and I did not to do reconstruction, a very personal choice. This is the kind of decision that jars you not just at the time, but later, when grief for what is lost can surface unexpectedly.
Writing continued to be essential to me during that time. Although not many of those poems have been published, my chapbook, New Year’s Eve Surgery, has a few poems I collected to give to my medical team. I needed them to know something about me—after all, they would be doing a very personal surgery and had not even met me beforehand. My sister had the idea for the entire medical team to sign my copy of the chapbook and they wrote me amazing healing notes of support. My poems changed the conversations from very medical and impersonal to very human and healing.
What insights came to you through medical experiences?
In Poem 14, “Scene: The Future,” from Thrown Again into the Frazzle Machine, I am thinking ahead to a future when cancer treatment may have changed a lot. Listen here: https://youtu.be/05q2-bgEpQo