Fine Black Lines: Facing Breast Cancer

Do you need comfort and courage? Would you like to have your toughest feelings validated? This book can clearly help. 

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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Read excerpts from Fine Black Lines.
See the Table of Contents.
See "What Others Say About Fine Black Lines.

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.

Journal Entries

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
on shore

one wants to be
friendly, of course,

but perhaps it is
more important
to keep

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.

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Table of Contents

Foreward vii
About the Author and the Book ix
Acknowledgements xi
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
Index 163

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What Others Say About Fine Black Lines

Your book is absolutely wonderful. We read a lot of breast cancer books and this is just striking. It's the best thing I've ever read.
Barbara Morton, Director, Lincoln Cancer Center, Nebraska

Fine Black Lines is a book that clearly can help.
Sensible Solutions, New York City

Beautifully written, compelling, I couldn't put it down.
Margaret Khatchaturian, Musician, Illinois

Fine Black Lines says what all breast cancer survivors wish we could express, fear, anger, loneliness, and most of all, courage. What a spokeswoman for us all!"
Madelyn Case, Ph.D., Colorado

Profound, educational and so beautiful. I don't know how many times I've picked up your book and I get so much help from it. It has given me much comfort.
Jacquie Schwartz, M.Ed., Colorado

I read your book yesterday and it was wonderful. It is the best book on the subject.
Patricia Olson, author of And Suddenly They're Gone

There are lots of books about breast cancer. Some are by doctors with much scientific and clinical knowledge, but little to say about the emotional aspects of breast cancer. Others are by patients who know what it's really like, but don't express themselves particularly well. "You don't often get this quality of writing from someone who has the disease. It is a rare gift that she has . . . .an amazing sensitivity,"
said Dr. Martin Rubinowitz of Denver.Rocky Mountain News

The feelings you have been able to capture moved me to laughter, tears, goose bumps."
Barbara Ferrell, R.N., Colorado

"Of the many books I've read on cancer, none are as honest as this one."
Barbara Haber, R.N. Arizona

"I couldn't put it down. I felt personally engaged in something urgent and powerful. Courage shines through as well as curiosity and compassion.
Walter S. Friesen, Ed.D., Kansas

At once sensitive, funny, poignant, angry, loving, earthy and transcendent.
Naomi K. Lederach, M.N., Pennsylvania

The combination of journal entries and poems gives a rare glimpse of breast cancer's toll, even for survivors. Her writing is powerful, real, memorable.
Provident Book Finder

Fine Black Lines has helped me understand the fears, the sense of loss and the humanity of patients with breast cancer.
J. Dirk Iglehart, M.D., Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina

I wish my mother could have read this book.
Judith Wilson, M.D., Colorado

I can't tell you what a wonderful catharsis it has been to read these pages. This book is so consoling.




Lauren Johnson, Singapore

The first two years of medical school provide future physicians with a tremendous amount of information. We learn the facts and how to "talk" medicine. By reading Fine Black Lines, I believe I gained insight into treating patients as people. Sometimes I think the human aspect gets lost in medical education. I have recommended your book to several class mates.
Karen Krogstad, Medical Student

Perhaps the most effective female voice on breast cancer.
Julie Marr Robinson, Kent Hospital, Rhode Island

Fine Black Lines is must reading for everyone. Counselors will find it especially helpful, physicians will learn about handling patients in a way no medical school can teach and persons with cancer will find solace and a friend here. Some of the most moving poems you will ever read!
Tom Squier, The Spring Lake News

In a time when the bookstore shelves are overflowing with personal accounts of people's battles against disease, especially cancer, Hjelmstad's work stands out like a shining star.
Martha Smith, The Providence Sunday Journal

"The story provides insight to other patients, their loved ones, even the doctors who treat them."
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