My Left Breast

May 7, 2013

We sit in a circle. The husbands, too. Both facilitators are breast cancer survivors. Everyone, except the husbands, takes turns talking. The stories are heartbreaking and boring. And routine, astonishing, terrifying and exhausting. But after the husbands are taken into another room (to talk about, ahem, their breastless feelings), the stories get more interesting. There is the boyfriend who ran away after the diagnosis, the husband whose insensitivity borders on sadism (“All he said after my diagnosis was, Can we still go skiing next week?”) A mother cries because she doesn’t want to wear a wig to her daughter’s wedding. The woman who has already outlived by a year her prognosis of imminent death talks and talks as if her unbroken chain of outpouring words are keeping her alive. Fear, like a foul smell, permeates the air. Outside, there are the familiar sounds of cars heading to the office, supermarket, dry cleaners or daycare, as if we were not sitting here in a circle of surprised despair. The air is crisp out there, and you remember other autumns when you were growing up in Cleveland. The air was fragrant then, the trees brilliant with color, and you would not have been able to imagine sitting in Texas with a group of ladies soon to be maimed — or to die.


I sit mute, listening to each sad story, as if it weren’t my story, too, as if I had wandered into the wrong movie at the multiplex. Then it is my turn to speak and all eyes turn to me, waiting. I sit there. I have nothing to say to these strangers. I have no story to tell. All I can think to say is I’m angry.


When the facilitator says I should validate my anger, I want to hit her. I hate the psychobabble, the hard plastic chairs, the snacks, the outpourings, the shared misery. I hate the word “share.” I feel patronized. But also strangely relieved. I didn’t know until that moment how angry I was…



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