I was re-reading through my notes about a workplace memoir that I’d written and published through a small independent publisher in 2008. I’d been collecting materials to write a book about where I worked and the heart-felt journey I’d made while working there. While reading my notes, I found something that captured my interest. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to add the information to the second edition of my workplace memoir, Mr. Jefferson’s Piano & Other Central Harlem Stories, or simply write another short story to post on my blog.
When I opted to write a short story, suddenly, I traveled back in time.
According to my workplace diary, Monday, October 13, was Columbus Day and a civil service holiday. Today was Tuesday, October 14, 1997. I read the diary note I’d written to my partner.
I am so sorry. I know I promised I’d go to the PTA meeting but I can’t.
As I read that note, I remembered thinking how I couldn’t say what I felt. Instead, for the past five weeks, I pretended I wasn’t worried about a damned thing. At forty-nine, I’d gotten my routine mammogram five weeks ago. I always hated the way that damned machine squashed my double C-cups into minus A-cups, then twisted my poor dense breast tissue until I wanted to scream. All the while taking pictures of my misery. Anyway, my doctor found “something.”
Of course, that meant more tests to determine if the “something” inside my left breast was friend or foe. My oncologist said it was a large mass of fatty tissue. He said it was benign. The biopsy seemed to prove him right. He still wanted to remove it. He and I talked about the surgery. He described the procedure to me and my partner. We weren’t out yet, so he assumed she was my best friend and nothing more. He ended the session, saying, “In three months, you won’t be able to tell where the surgery was done.” He expected the surgery to go well. He also said I’d do well during the post-surgery since I was healthy.
The night before the surgery, actually the entire time before the surgery, Cancer had been on my mind but not on my lips. I didn’t want to speak its name for fear I would jinx myself. That I might send signals to my body … malignant cancer signals. Silly, isn’t it? I felt I couldn’t talk to anybody about my secret fears: not my partner, not my doctor, and not my coworkers. I thought I could speak with my ex since she had ovarian cancer at one time and had a hysterectomy. She’d been cancer free for ten or eleven years. She didn’t have the time to hear my “crap.” It brought back too many bad memories for her and so she cut our conversation short … very short. Like maybe she listened for two minutes, made some excuse, and hung up.
The memory of that day made me shake my head.
Then I noticed another entry on my work diary dated October 11, 1997. One of my favorite supers died of kidney cancer. My coworkers and I just found out today on the 14th.
Here’s a scary thought. I was going through a cancer uncertainty while she was dying or already dead by the same foe. I exhaled, then I thought, Right now, I want to be around life. I need to smell freshly cut grass with its refreshing aroma and its springiness. I need to see spring flowers with their vivid colors. I want to hear birds singing. I went to one of several places where I could do exactly that. I’m here sitting at 89th Street and Riverside Drive Park at the Civil War Memorial statue. I’m watching kids … teenagers hanging out with each other. Nothing seems so terrible. Everything is all good.
My second-to-last entry showed an appointment with my doctor at 3:15 PM.
The last entry, written in all caps, said:
I HAVE NEVER BEEN QUITE THIS SCARED OR THIS RELIEVED IN 15 YEARS. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I DON’T HAVE BREAST CANCER.
I smiled when I read it.
Look for my 27th romance novel, The Big C, is there love after cancer? It will be released in October to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month.