Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Entry #235

Body and Soul
by Kathleen A. Ryan


The box of tissues in the nurse’s hand gave it away before the breast surgeon could utter a word.

“It’s not good,” he said. “We’re recommending a left breast mastectomy, lymph node removal, and chemotherapy. Would you be interested in reconstruction?”

“I’m still on ‘It’s not good.’”

I’m whisked away to consult with a plastic surgeon. The next thing I know, I’m in a tiny room with a crowd, being photographed naked from the waist up--my “before” body silhouette photographs.

“Turn sideways,” they instruct.

In the operating room two weeks later, the plastic surgeon marks my chest with a Sharpie, using feathery strokes to map out his plan to insert a tissue expander after my breast is removed.

“Ultimately, you’ll sacrifice looks for contour,” he says.

I’m sacrificing a breast for my life, I thought.

A question came to mind that night in my hospital room.

“When I gave birth, I was in the maternity ward,” I said to the nurse. “What floor do they put you on when they remove a breast?”

“This is the oncology ward,” she says, as if I should have known.

“But that’s for cancer pa--oh, yeah, that’s me.”

I’m not in any rush to have these bandages removed. Nothing like breast cancer to drastically alter a woman’s shape.

But it will never bend my spirit, which soars with gratitude for being given a second chance at life.

35 comments:

Bernita said...

Engaging voice and character.

Anonymous said...

You know a story is well written when you can read through the words with ease and understand the premise. I enjoyed you interpretation of the picture. --JR

Laurel said...

I've heard this story from the other side my entire life. My dad's a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

Humanizing to see it fromt the other perspective.

Aniket said...

Touching tale and a very well written one at that. She sure has a brave spirit.

Anonymous said...

Very engaging character - got me right away and the voice was so authentic.

McKoala said...

This one was very moving for me.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Very moving, well written and a clever take on the photo prompt.

Christian Bell said...

Yes, quite moving. The narrator's voice comes alive here.

Angel Zapata said...

An effectively subtle use of the theme. Quite poignant.

sandra seamans said...

Nicely done, Kathleen! I just wanted to sit here and cry with her. How very brave she is.

kashers said...

A distressing, though extremely moving take on the prompt. The optimism held in the last line was thoroughly uplifting.

Megs - Scattered Bits said...

I felt her pain and uncertainty and the whirl of how fast it was happening for her, but I didn't feel the shift, the moment that made that last line plausible. If there had been some bridge between the two, I think this piece would have been close to perfect.

Louise said...

Her voice is so authentic. I really got the fact that everything was happening way faster than she could process it.When it's all over she still doesn't identify herself as a cancer patient..has to remind herself.."oh yeah, that's me" A wonderfully moving piece.

Cathi Stoler said...

Very moving Kathy. I can really feel
what you were going through.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

I appreciate each and every one of your comments; It helps to get feedback ~ I thank Jason for holding this contest and giving me and all of the entrants a chance to post our stories and get feedback. A wonderful opportunity! I'm so impressed with the entries!

Hilary Davidson said...

I'm awed by the author's ability to pack so much emotion into just a few lines. Beautifully written. Bravo!

laughingwolf said...

very nicely rendered, kathleen...

Leatherdykeuk said...

a very human tale. Thanks.

Aerin said...

Caveat


Something I Would Keep

the maternity ward-oncology ward contrast; the "I'm still on 'it's not good'"

Something I Might Tweak

"drastically alter a woman's shape" - I know that's the case for this protag, but it seems to marginalize the experience of women for whom it's more than a shape-change

Preeti said...

Very well written.

She did seem to alternate between being dazed and being extremely strong and focused. And this brought out the natural imbalances that occur within our physical and psychological systems when we go through a traumatic experience. One side of us succumbs to weaknesses and yet there is a voice inside asking us to hang on...

I liked... :-)

Sarah Laurenson said...

Beautiful story. Well told.

Aimee Laine said...

Think pink! Great story.

Karen said...

Maybe what I like most is how you took that prompt and created this! Nice work.

Merry Monteleone said...

I loved the voice here, you made her very human and very believable - which can be hard with this subject matter - it's tempting to go over-dramatic (because honestly, what's more dramatic than sacrificing pieces of your body to stave off death?) - instead you brought out her wit, and let us process the seriousness of her story for ourselves. Well done.

Deb Smythe said...

Very realistically told. And nicely ended with a show of strength and determination

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

I am so grateful for each of you taking the time to read my story & commenting.
Aerin- thanks for your input; it was more my attempt to keep with the silhouette theme by talking about the body photos,the contour, & the shape, & certainly not to marginalize this experience in the least. 250 words is a challenge. This is based on my own experience, so I am sensitive to the plight of survivors.

Jean Ann Williams said...

Sounds like it is personal. Very good job of telling us what it was like. So it is sad, but good at a second chance at life.

Yeah, for that!

JaneyV said...

I think that the thing you conveyed best here is how quickly everything moves form diagnosis to surgery so that the human being caught in the middle has no time to process what's going on.

“Ultimately, you’ll sacrifice looks for contour,” he says.

I’m sacrificing a breast for my life, I thought.


These two sentences were so powerful.

An amazing piece which I'm sure will touch - personally - the lives of many of your readers.

Well done.

Craig said...

You have created a truly brave chatacter who can be an inspiration to us all.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thank you, kind readers and fellow writers ~ for your comments ~ they mean so much to me!

pjd said...

I'm glad you replied to Aerin's comment--I was having trouble matching the piece to the photo, but the silhouette aspect of course makes sense. (Hey, it's late and I'm tired. :-)

I love the same lines that others have pointed out. This is well written and poignant--I've known a number of friends with cancer in recent years, and there's a feeling of loneliness amid a crowd here that rings true.

catvibe said...

Kathleen, I lost my lifelong best friend last year to breast cancer, so this piece struck a raw nerve and I was crying at the end. I loved the voice you used here, as if you had actually experienced this and were simply retelling your story. For that it was extremely authentic and compelling. Yes, thank god for the second chance. I don't actually concur with Aerin's tweak. I think a woman's shape is altered, and not just her physical shape by her mental and spiritual shape too. Excellent choice of metaphor to make that an all inclusive statement given the short amount of words we have.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

pjd -

I'm glad it clarified the piece for you. Sometimes it is subtle and doesn't hit you over the head, especially when you're tired! (I hear 'ya!). Thank you for your kind comments, and I'm sorry to hear about your friends having to battle cancer. I hope they are all doing as well as they can be!
Thank you for your kind comments.

catvibe:

My heart goes out to you, I am so very sorry for the loss of your beloved friend. I know that heartbreak all too well. I belong to a breast cancer support group and we lost two women last year (one was 42, the other 52 - mom of two) and another three years ago (age 41, mother of three). I lost a friend who was 36, the mother of 4 kids, ages 18 mos to 12. BC is prevalent here on Long Island.

You have hit the nail on the head, it is my experience (I only altered the time frame from 17 days to 14). I am writing a true crime memoir, but have been studying and experimenting with short fiction, and loving it. I have a piece forthcoming in the "Hint Fiction Anthology" this Fall.

As soon as I heard the word "silhouette," for the inspiration for this contest, I couldn't help but think of exactly what I wrote here that has to do with silhouette (and shape, and contour) and how breast cancer affects it; I tried to "shape" it, if you will, using fictional techniques.

As difficult as it has been and continues to be at times (I just got out of four days in the hospital, I was using my iPod to communicate, typing one letter at a time!), I am filled with gratitude, living life to the fullest and enjoying every moment.

I appreciate your thoughtful comments, they mean the world to me ~ many thanks.

Dottie (My Blog 2.0) said...

Karen

Thanks for this wonderful piece, for anyone that has gone through this experience, yourself or someone close to you, the emotions evoked and captured are amazing.

Well desired honorable mention.

Dottie

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thank you, Dottie, for taking the time to read my story and for leaving such a lovely comment. I appreciate your kind thoughts and sentiments!