the healing muse

Volume 3, 2003

What to Do If You Find Out You Have Breast Cancer

Mercilee Jenkins

            Call all your friends and ask them to help you.
Get mad as hell and rage at the medical industrial establishment
for not taking better care of you.
Blame the government for not taking better care of all women and the planet.

            If someone says
What did you do to get this?
Say, I was born after World War II
During the time of above-ground nuclear testing.
All my life, I drank the water and breathed the air
that was polluted by industry.
I worked too hard for the money I needed to live
and my heart has been broken because too many of my friends
have died of AIDS.
And no, breast cancer doesn’t run in my family
but it’s running like crazy through the family of woman.
Thirty years ago it was 1 in 20,
now it’s 1 in 8.
But we’re told there’s no cause for concern.

            Maybe it’s our diet
we should eat less fat
until we disappear
no breasts to speak of
no flesh to nourish this disease.

            If someone gives you the book,
Love, Medicine, and Miracles.
(And they will)
First throw it across the room
because you don’t want to hear about
how you are responsible for  your  own healing.
Then pick it up and read it
Find out that the author thinks it’s good to be a troublesome patient
and realize you are well on your way.

            Do whatever you need to do
to make yourself feel whole again.
Walk on the beach,
go dancing,
prune the garden with a fury,
have secret ceremonies by moonlight with witchy friends
or rent a lot of old movies and cry as much as you can.

            Go to the doctor.
When he pulls the drain out of your side
get a good look at your mastectomy scar,
then go out and get drunk.
When your doctor surprises you with the news
that now you are going to have chemotherapy,
go home
and ask your partner to cut off all your hair
because you’re going to lose it anyway.
If the diagnosis doesn’t kill you,
the cure sure feels like it will.

            Tell the newspapers to ban all lingerie ads
since they only make you jealous
of women with two breasts of any size.
Tell your doctors and your well-meaning friends
You are not cheered up by the idea
that now you can get perfect fake breasts
to replace your middle aged natural ones
which you like just fine thank-you-very-much
because they respond to sexual stimulation
and fake ones don’t.
Funny we never seem to talk about that.

            You will find out some things you don’t want to know
like who your real friends are,
the ones who offer to help and mean it.
Or what your love relationship is all about.
Fifty percent of relationships break up
and not because you are abandoned
but because you can no longer afford to love people
who don’t nurture you.

            Find out how spiritual you really are.
Don’t be afraid to pray
and ask whoever is “in”
as you see  it – that great being in the sky –
to lift you up to where you belong
and carry you on a dove’s breath
away from all this
‘cause you certainly don’t belong here.

            And tell yourself you love yourself
even if you don’t mean it.
Tell yourself that everyday
until you do.
That won’t make up for the loss
but it will take you to
the next person you’re going to be
wiser, more beautiful,
capable of kicking ass and taking prisoners
and when they call you a
“Cancer Survivor”
Tell them no,
You’re much more than that
You’re a whole woman inside out.
You’re a self-made woman
and you celebrate life
every time you think of it
and you feel lucky
and you bless your body and honor those who have died
because that’s what eventually happens to one out of three of us,
So you tell that person
that it’s about so much more than surviving.
It’s about defining  yourself by new rules
even if you don’t know
how it’s all going to end.

Return to Table of Contents, Volume 3, 2003.

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