Fine Black Lines: Facing Breast Cancer
Every year over 200,000 women and 1400 men hear the dreaded words: You have breast cancer. While people generally do not feel ill when they are diagnosed, they are plunged into a world of surgeries and treatments.
Those medical aspects of breast cancer are difficult, to be sure, but there are additional challenges:
- tough decisions
- fear of recurrence
- feelings about body image
- compromised sexuality
- reordering priorities
- changing relationships
- a new sense of mortality
The night before her first mastectomy, Lois Hjelmstad penned a poem, "Good-bye, Beloved Breast." It was the beginning of the book about her breast cancer experience, Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear, and Loneliness.
Lois did not intend to write a book. She was simply searching for courage, comfort and a sense of certainty about what she had to do. A farewell poem for her radiation therapists followed. She shared the first twenty poems she had written about her cancer experience with her oncologist, who said, "You have to do something with these."
Nine months later, when new symptoms appeared and new decisions were required, a sense of urgency propelled her to resume work on the project. In 1993, Fine Black Lines was published. It has sold out of seven printings, but is still available.
This book has brought comfort, courage, and a new capacity for joy to thousands of women in the United States, Canada, and England.
For insight into some of these hurdles and validation of your feelings, read intimate and powerful excerpts from Lois Hjelmstad's book, Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer and her short articles on breast cancer issues. Scroll down, please. Don't be intimidated by the Order link.
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Excerpts from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness
Please note that this is copyright protected material that is not to be copied except for your own use.
February 11th – "Last night, snuggled under my blankets, I checked my breasts as I have done for the past thirty years. I was startled to touch two small "peas" that I knew had not been there before. But I had a clean mammogram in November. So I dismissed the peas, rolled over and snuggled deeper.
March 8th ”My internist gave me an antibiotic for bronchitis, sympathized with my chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) symptoms and ordered a new mammogram when I casually mentioned the lumps. He promised to call before we go on vacation if anything shows up.
April 4th – ”The mammogram was negative but the lumps are still there. The internist sent me to a surgeon. The surgeon was not reassuring. He told me that it was mandatory to remove the lumps as soon as possible. The tone of his voice sent a small shiver down my spine.
April 20th – ”Les and I went to the hospital and the two lumps were removed under general anesthetic. After we came home, I watched television before I finally asked Les what the surgeon had said. Even before he spoke, I knew that I had cancer.
May 3rd – ”It really sank in today that I will lose my breast. In spite of everything we had a pleasant, if poignant, dinner out. Later Les and I made love for the last time with my body intact. We wept.
Goodbye, Beloved Breast
Goodbye, beloved breast
I shall never forget you
Shall I ever come to the end of grieving?
When first you developed in sweet innocence
I was dismayed
I was afraid of emerging sexuality…
But you became beautiful
My lover treasured you
My children nuzzled you and were nourished
I cradled you in my hands to cherish your softness…
Now a dark menace has invaded you
And somehow I must bear our parting…
Goodbye, beloved breast
Goodbye, beloved part of me
Goodbye, symbol of my femininity…
No Lifeguard on Duty
it is difficult
when one is drowning
to wave to the people
one wants to be
friendly, of course,
but perhaps it is
Force of Habit
Once before we went to sleep
my husband reached
to caress my missing breast
I felt him cringe
and he slowly
withdrew his hand,
hoping I had not noticed.
Having done so once,
he never forgot again.
I learn more slowly.
Whenever I run up the stairs
my hands instinctively
fly toward my chest
forgetting, after all this time,
there is no need to steady breasts
that lie on the cutting room floor.
|About the Author and the Book||ix|
|If I Could Stay Awake 'til Dawn||1|
|I Never Meant to Write a Book||13|
|I Wish I Had My Teddy Bear||19|
|We Light the Lamps and Candles||43|
|I Have Looked This Way Before||57|
|Hard It Is to Lose a Friend||83|
|The Leaves Are Crisp Beneath My Feet||93|
|I Cannot Help but Wonder||111|
|I Cannot go with You All the Way||135|
|As If It Were the First Morning||145|
I can't tell you what a wonderful catharsis it has been to read these pages. This book is so consoling.