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by Cara Holman

You don't quite know where to look
as you fiddle with my pathology report
between your thumb and forefinger
and fumble for just the right words.
I see it has caught you off guard too
and for an instant, that makes us almost equals,
but no, you are young enough to be my daughter
and I feel almost sorry for you in your obvious distress.
I wonder how many times you have had to break the news
to a patient while struggling for the right mix of emotion
and professional detachment. You didn't do too badly,
all things considered. What about me?
Did I strike just the right balance of rational acceptance,
intellectual curiosity, grim determination
or did my fear show through?
It's not really a fair comparison though
seeing as how you've had so much more practice than me
this being after all only my first time.

You get to walk out of this room a free woman
perhaps even now speaking the same words
to another hapless victim, I mean survivor,
in the next room while I gather up my belongings,
scanning the room just one more time
to make sure I haven't left pieces of myself behind.
Already I've forgotten exactly how you put it
but I'm pretty sure you didn't use the C word,
that ugly, scary, taboo word. Malignancy
I think you called it instead, but even with a euphemism
it still comes out the same in the end, an unwanted growth
that I have unwittingly been harboring in my body.

I am no longer the same person
who walked into this room less than an hour ago, carefree,
already making plans for the rest of my day.
I have undergone a metamorphosis,
and now a line has been firmly drawn
between my old self and the new me,
the me that has suddenly been sent scrambling
down a new path, a path I never chose.
I try to ignore the questions bursting to the surface
Why me? Why cancer? Why now?
as I step out into the dappled October sunlight.
Tomorrow, I will regroup and begin to pick up the pieces
remembering that even Pandora was left with hope,
and I will prepare my response to the alien invasion within,
assembling my team and formulating a battle plan,
and only then will I begin to move forward
gingerly, one carefully measured step at a time.
That is tomorrow.

Today I set aside for grieving, a day of sorrow
as I prepare to say goodbye forever to my pre-cancer self
and step off into the unknown future.

Cara Holman is a freelance writer of personal essays, poetry and creative non-fiction. Her writings have appeared on the Literary Mama, Four and Twenty and WomenBloom websites. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and the youngest of her three children, and is a two-and-a-half year breast cancer survivor. A previous piece of hers entitled The Dogwood Tree, appeared in Volume No. VII of Survivor's Review. More of her writings can be found on her blog at caraholman.wordpress.com.