Voices of Valley Women 2011

A Breast Story

As I lie on the gurney I look at the call button – I need to push that. What am I doing? I can’t have my breast removed. No‚ No‚ you have been diagnosed with breast cancer – this is the only route to go. Take a deep breath – slowly in‚ slowly out. I try to recall the face of every soul who has touched me throughout my 69 years. I review everything.

I was diagnosed a month ago. Being brave is a role I have learned to play throughout my life. So what‚ I have breast cancer – I can handle this – right? It’s the early stages‚ I’ll have a mastectomy‚ clear away the dreaded disease and move on. Think about what this does for you – it saves your life.

My doctor‚ a woman‚ enters the room as the tears roll down my cheeks. “Second thoughts about this are not uncommon. We could do another biopsy‚ but we may not still remove all the cells.”

The surgery went on‚ the cancer was removed. I came home with a drain tube and a large scar. As I lie in my bed recuperating‚ and occasionally being brave enough to lift the nightgown and look at the wrapped incision‚ I begin to review the history of my journey with not just this breast but my breasts and womanhood. There is a pattern and a cycle to it all.

Those adolescent days when the “bumps” start to appear and your brother and his friends tease you about your little boobs. Lifting your blouse or T-shirt to check out what progress is being made. The sleep-over with your girl friends when you compare growth and size – too embarrassed to talk to your Mom about this. One friend‚ in particular‚ who had an older sister‚ decided that it was time for me to “fit into” the first bra. Her sister had kept hers in preparation for her little sister. When I got home with this thing under my blouse‚ my mother admitted it was time to visit the local department store and get me started.

Then there were the boys and dating. Wearing things that either showed off your “cleavage” or not. I was not the showing off type but there was still that interest when certain guys were intrigued by what was there. It was okay after a few dates to let them touch you and for you to feel the sensation of sexuality you had never felt before.

Next stage was exposure to other females – real exposure like in the community shower stalls in the dormitories at college. Never had I realized that there could be so many shapes and forms of breasts. Without gawking‚ it was obvious that we all were curious about one another. Also‚ the pride of wearing a sorority pin or a fraternity pin close to your heart – where else‚ directly over your left breast.

When real sex comes‚ it becomes obvious that the breasts play a major role in the whole experience. We women learn the breast’s full function to express our utmost love and devotion to our partner.

Children cuddled to our breast and breast feeding complete the cycle of the breast. What child doesn’t remember being held tightly to their mother’s bosom and comforted? Breast feeding brings rewards to motherhood still undescribed by most poets. And then there is the grief of the mother who can’t produce milk and isn’t allowed that experience.

As we age‚ and the breasts do also‚ many women choose to enhance their breasts – many choose to hide their breasts and others feel quite sure that their breasts explain who they are so therefore they need to display them.

And then disease comes and we lose a breast. How difficult this has been. More than I ever imagined. My breasts never played a major role in my life and yet‚ evidently they did. Now I am “a one breasted warrior” as a friend so aptly named me‚ starting a new phase of my life with just one. My husband catches me putting these thoughts on paper. He quips‚ “You could call your piece‚ Thanks for the Mammaries” – he’s been dealt a misfortune with this journey‚ but we both know that humor works.

I can now wear the pink ribbon‚ participate in the walks‚ become one of the millions of women in the world who are “one breasted warriors”. The American College Dictionary has one definition of breast that states “the bosom regarded as the seat of thoughts and feelings”. My “seat” has been altered‚ but my life will not be. I‚ like all the others‚ will beat this thing and become a stronger woman.

© Mary Ellen South – June‚ 2011

Note: This issue‚ we make an exception and print a poem written by a woman living in Washington State who lived through the destruction of the World Trade Centers on 9/11/01. – Ed.

Exhalation 9/11

One by one I lift each peace rose from the basket
inhale its sweet aroma
and place it on the glassine surface of the bay.

I stand sand–tethered‚ sky–headed
as the off–shore breeze exhales lands breath
of cedar‚ soil and musk.

Each inhalation triggers an equal exhalation;
exhausting that faraway day’s acrid intake;
the merged vapor of building‚ oil and human detritus.

As my shaking fingers release flowers into the sea’s care‚
mountain stoops‚ tide ebbs and the soft breeze shifts.
My breath reverberates in harmony with the moment.

Each pink tinged circle floats on and follows the one before.
In minutes there is a chain of life‚ a serpentine line
across the vast aquaeous body.

With each blossom inhaled and released‚ my heart lightens.
I come closer to that day when the last rose gives up its essence
so that I may exhale the last dark particle of despair.

Then – I will lay myself gently upon that surface;
mountain blessed‚ wind–borne‚ I will drift away;
the last jewel in a chain of redemption.

© Faith Wilder

My Life

One The phone is ringing‚ dryer buzzing‚ cat crying
while I have rain on my back
and soil on my hands
as Quan Yin waits in the garden

My eyes follow a soaring bird,
settle on gold and purple blooms
and a green vista‚
with you somewhere on my mind
and waiting in my heart quietly.

© Carol Toba
June, 2010

First Daffodil of Spring

One warm day in the midst of very cold
Came the burst of joy from the stem.
Tucked back away from the wind‚
The plant searched for the sun.

I stepped out to see the joy‚
Yellow (my favorite color) grabbed hold of me.
The cup of sunshine held by a green stem‚
Gave me a message I needed to hear.

Spring is coming‚ it’s not far off‚
Soon the winds will slow down‚
The sun will warm every garden
And others will bloom for you.

Many warm days are on the way‚
Just hold on to that thought.
Meanwhile watch as other daffodils spring forth‚
And the small crocus speak to you of rebirth.

© Mary Ellen South

Two Roads

In the prime of my life two roads converge at this pile of laundry and dirty plates.
The road called duty led directly here,
its path determined, well worn and straight.
The other road called longing wanted wear;
dark undergrowth and shade obscured the way
as few lone souls had passed or lingered there,
choosing to take this road another day.
For too long now I have become aware,
as stale duty wins and I still delay
the unknown course, its mystery hidden
still calls to me and I must now prepare
to turn that way. I will no longer stay
divided. The heart leads where I am bidden.

© JoEllen McNeal

Voices 2011