Today is the one year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I know because I wrote about it in my line-a-day journal.
“I got the call today. I do have breast cancer.”
This was after weeks of testing, during which I told only my best friend (who got a mammogram herself six months later, which led to her own breast cancer diagnosis). I kept it from my husband and daughter because I didn’t know what to say. I was scared.
Twelve months on, I’ve made friends with my scars. They’re tender, but consistent. Proof that what happened wasn’t a dream.
I have a horizontal scar on my breast about an inch long, marking the spot where the surgeon reached in and pulled out a cancerous tumor last year.
I like it. It’s straight and skin colored, not angry, puckered, or jagged. It’s the perfect slot for a pocket square, or a button hole where a man might slip a flower to decorate his lapel. It could be a runway where planes take off, or the top of a bookshelf where my favorite novel lives. It could be a window waiting to be opened, or a sleeping ocean ready to wake.
You speak of my breast as a clock,
With it’s cancerous tumor at noon.
Or is it midnight?
I’d rather talk about ten-forty-five,
The spot my cat uses, while I’m asleep,
For a stepping stone on his way to my stomach;
The U shape from three to six to nine,
Where underwires like chain mail
Left dents along my skin;
Five-fifteen, where the heel of my husband’s palm
Rests when I’m on top of him;
The center, pink-brown bullseye
With precise, invisible clock hands spinning,
Where my daughter latched, pulled, and fed milk
From the duct you’ve named noon (midnight?).
Oncologists, surgeons, and radiologists have decided to navigate the breast as a clock. This way, they can easily communicate about the location of tumors and other irregularities.
I get it. Boobs are (sort of) round. They have a nipple in the middle, anchoring the invisible clock’s hands. Twelve and six are at the top and bottom, with three and nine at the viewer’s right and left.
But have none of these incredibly intelligent people realized that for a cancer patient, a reference to time calls to mind time passing, and potentially running out, and that’s probably not the best idea?
My friend died, brutally, of cancer.
I’d like to gather my thoughts into an elegant essay on her memory wall, as so many of her friends and family have done. But I don’t want to think about it.
I do, however, sing with her.
See, she had a Disney princess voice that was the centerpiece of several secular and religious singing groups. My relationship with God is like a suffocating wool sweater, itchy and uncomfortable. But singing along to her recordings feels like a pure channel to something beyond all of that.
My friend, my heart still hears you singing.
A friend of mine died of cancer in November. She lived in my chat apps; we shared texts, photos, and voice memos, but never met in person.
This morning, a video popped up on TikTok of a girl playing bass along to Duran Duran’s “Rio.” After a ten second debate with myself, I sent the link to my dead friend. It was a tiny celebration, the easy, ecstatic talent of the girl playing a song we both loved.
Twelve-year-old me sang along to MTV, alone in the basement; almost forty years later, the song dances across the river to her.
My Playstation 4 was a “fuck yeah, I’m done with radiation” gift to myself. I’d heard the raves about Redemption, my daughter wanted Detroit, and we were still in loose lockdown.
There began my dance with The Infected. I started with a flashlight, a pistol, and a partner. I gained a child to smuggle to safety. I leveled up to rifle, bow, and Molotov cocktail; I lost the partner, but earned strength and stealth as I avoided infection and killed (several hundred) enemies.
I finished, not well, but true, and knew what it meant as I began the dance again.
If I had to (today) pick an item to take to a desert island, it would be a coffee table book of art history (painting, sculpture, architecture) showing works (great and obscure) from all eras, which would be a catalog of beauty (for my eyes), but would also describe the succession of styles from what came before to where they did lead, because that might explain how my mind, which for a year was a torpid watercolor (bleeding formless across a fiber card that was illness) has leaped into the urgent, saturated squares and black borders of a comic book.