Auntie A and I

Waiting room stomach cramping

Dry lips and trembling hands hidden

Underneath a hospital green gown

Keeping modesty intact

But letting in the cold draft of the xray room

Mammogram for mama day

Breast sandwiched between icy steel slabs

Indifferent machinery radiation playing eye spy

Hide and seek with your tissue

Is it lurking here

Or there

Days pass

Phone rings

We need a closer look

It’s probably nothing, a handbook soothing phrase

Heart racing, it can’t be…no it’s not.  I won’t go there again this time

But you do

You see it again

A day from long ago

Auntie A showing Ma her mastectomy

You are ten and it’s a mystery

You ignore the order to stay in the kitchen with your innocence

Instead you rebel and sneak a peak in the crack in the bedroom and see hell

It’s a black hole where Auntie A’s right breast used to be

And the devils name is Cancer

And it is killing her

You hang up the phone in the present

Don’t say the word, you don’t have to, everyone else is thinking it too

We need to bring in the special forces of the ultrasound

Waiting room stomach cramping

Dry lips and trembling hands hidden

Beneath the plastic garment bag holding

A bra you may not need again

Two cups one breast

You start to panic

This way please you are directed down the narrow walk

The nurse says  your name too kindly

Your file is too thick

Cold table, dimly lit room

Romantic lighting for a sterile love/hate affair

Metal paddle sliding, probing

Settling on a black blob the size of a pea

Or a button

Or an aspirin

Or a tumor

Don’t say the word, you don’t have to, everyone is thinking it too

We’ll need to remove this and test it

You can go now

We’ll contact the doctor

You go home and think of that word, but this time you will say it and make it small

Just in case it’s there this time


It’s like saying death

If you say it, it will scare it off

And it does

Until you go to bed and it lays there beside you

A hateful appendage like the breast you pretend isn’t there

The breast you have been terrified of for five years

Since they took out the cyst that wasn’t cancer

But wasn’t normal either

The one that put you on this twice yearly rollercoaster from hell

Needles aspirating

Lumps dug out


Safe this time

You leave the office feeling cancer free

You arrive home seeing the gaping hole that used to be your aunt’s breast

And you wait for it to get you too


Author: valo

I am a poet, writer and activist with a special interest in human rights for children and women as well as the elimination of poverty worldwide. If you read this today, feed someone locally for me will you? Drop off a non perishable food item at the food bank nearest you and consider yourself hugged. Thank you!

11 thoughts on “Auntie A and I”

  1. There are lines here that take my breath away. There are lines here that put me in the speaker’s place.

    “It’s a black hole where Auntie A’s right breast used to be”
    “Your file is too thick”
    “Romantic lighting for a sterile love/hate affair”
    “A hateful appendage like the breast you pretend isn’t there”
    “And you wait for it to get you too”

    I know this was an intensely personal poem to write and your goal may have been to simply complete it and put the experience behind you, but I really do think this poem is worthy of publication.

    The reason I think it would be important for you to consider publishing it is that it’s such a common thing for people to go through – it’s scary – and not just women. This poem speaks of the great what-if that occurs when you just don’t know what is going to happen. When you realize you’re mortal.

    I experienced a similar fear in 2008 when a severe pain in my chest hung around for about three months and there was a chance I had cancer of the esophagus. I kept waiting for that moment where I transcended everything and handled the pain and fear with a grace and a spiritual awakening – but that never came and all I knew was an obsessive panic. So what you are writing about here – that’s a human thing – it’s part of that spectrum I commented on in response to another post.

    This is a poem I want the world to read. It’s your story. But it’s our story.

    The poem makes me think of Lynn Shapiro’s “Sloan-Kettering,” which, by the way, was the first poem that this poet ever published and she ended up winning a Pushcart Prize for it. Posting the link below:

    1. I will continue my new trend of answering comments out of their order, because I’m having another old person day and my mind is swiss cheesed. I was hoping you would comment about the sexual abuse post Bryan. I can’t add one damn thing to your remarks because they say it all. Someone will read this, just as someone heard Mackenzie’s interview, just as someone has read a million other blogs and go get help to heal and emerge from their internal struggle a stronger person. As for me, some days are good, some are bad but I’m solid and that is more than can be said for far too many good people who have been damaged. Dave was one of those people and he should be here. His suicide, in addition to the trauma my girl and I endured has made me the outspoken bitch I am and it’s not likely I’ll stop anytime soon if it needs to be said. HUGS and thank you for saying some very valuable things my good suthun fren. 🙂

  2. Riveting, Val!
    You’re a courageous woman with a will of steel.
    I imagine I’m still in denial somewhat, keeping
    those thoughts away with a 20 ft. pole. I know what
    goes on in those rooms, but I didn’t quite know
    what it felt like. Well, I do now thanks to you.
    Have a great Friday best you can, brave lady! UT

    1. Hi Treeman, thank you but the really courageous people are suffering through chemo and radiation. Because of three women friends in particular, if and when it happens they have taught me that I will be okay. I’m glad you saw in my words the experience and I agree, it’s best to keep those thoughts far away most of the time. 🙂

  3. great writing Val!
    I feel for you. i do not relish the day when I have to start having mammograms. I’m actually surprised my doctor has requested I start them early as my paternal grandmother died from breast cancer.

    1. Mammograms are wonderful Jessie, but they can be scary for people like me with a history of breast cancer in the family and having had a precancerous cyst removed. When you do go, be vigilant and trust your own instinct about your body. YOU are in charge, not the doctor. Too many women and men forget this at their peril.

  4. Excelent poem, I loved it I really did, I think I got what you where thinking in pracially all of it.

    I thought indeed:
    At least they are doing her a biopsy, not an autopsy (that is something my dad would say, he was quite sarcastic indeed)
    cancer cancer cancer cancer
    what a world, It does not sound like death to me, not any more, well mostly it depends which kind is it, I always ask that.
    I can be incredibly sarcastic with medical things, I was born and raised literally in a hospital, nurses used to take care of me.
    My dad was a surgeon, so I got to see him working, opening people, taking their parts of, laughing at their disgusting deseases. don t take me wrong
    he was a good guy, he tried to heal. But I guess after seing so much death and fighting that much aginst it you become inmune towards the fear of that.
    On the other side I got to see the most awful things by watching my mom stuff, I can tell you skin diseases are by far more disgusting to observe than the ones you carry inside.
    The prognosis of this kind of cancer is not that bad.
    I think it is being too paranoid, I know aunt had it, it is not like it was before, just like having hiv also does not mean pain misery and death any more. Besides I do not understand why people are so scared of death, can t they accept it with more calm, no they love to freak out.

    Here are some old facts from the 04
    # 80.4% of women with breast cancer survive after 5 years in the US 1983-90 (SEER)
    * 100% of women survive breast cancer if it is detected before it starts to spread in the US (The American Cancer Society)
    * 98% of women survive breast cancer if it is detected while it is smaller than 2cm in diameter and hasn’t spread in the US (The American Cancer Society)
    * 88% of women survive breast cancer if it is detected while it is 2-5cm in diameter and has spread to axillary lymphs in the US (The American Cancer Society)

    Approximately 0.0% died under age 20; 1.0% between 20 and 34; 6.2% between 35 and 44; 15.1% between 45 and 54; 20.3% between 55 and 64; 19.8% between 65 and 74; 22.8% between 75 and 84; and 14.9% 85+ years of age.

    I love you val, lets talk soon. Do you use Gtalk, add me if you do

    1. Hi mariana, I’m going to respond to this in email. Be patient with me though, as I’ve had a lot to do here and not much time to respond. HUGS

    1. No my darling Paul, it isn’t and guess what? You and I get to go through it again in two months! 😦 I’m so sick of it, but I think of my girl and I keep on keepin’ on. Thank you for loving me through it all.

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