Ain't I A Woman: Reflections on Living and Dying with Breast Cancer

by Nicole Goodwin @LSGoldwyn

I, Every Woman 
Her breasts screamed in agony
As the tumors pushed against
The pale skin that covered them,

Her skin.
Like a white, fleece blanket once
Soft to the touch, and beautiful to the eye
Warm, like the feel of cotton in your hands,

Was now a dead limp sheet,
To the point of wretchedness.

I heard their cries with my very
Ears, devouring the awful sight
Of the cancerous invasion

Without speaking a word.

My face said it all, I was
Beyond downtrodden and
My mouth left speechless,
And agape.

Could this happen to my
Body, someday?
I recollected, beating myself
For the curiosity of WANTING
To see the tumors in all their
Horrific glory with my virgin eyes.

Now the time had come,
When my flash and glamor,
my smoke and mirrors could be

The flare was gone though;
the poetry—usually it spilled
from my mouth was now
bound, flightless.
Strangled, tied so tightly upon my tongue;
My own fright had made me useless.
At the sight of death, I quivered.
I was at a loss, numbed and dulled.

No support could I give.
I could offer her no comfort,
No shelter.
No escape from her physical,
Torment. Her virtual hell. she
Would have to endure this betrayal
Of body against soul,

And yet she could still smile.
And that smile held so much…

Hope—a feeling so bizarre, so strange
That in my estrangement,
Then (now, yet and still)
I am learning to ascertain.

With this breath, I reveal 
This vulnerable secret
Between she and I
My friend, myself

For an instant…
One shared moment had become
the same person.

Only I realize now
in hindsight,
I was the weaker portion.

She accepted what I could not.
In the end,
She knew—eventually death was coming.

In truth I must confess,
This something—that I do not fear death.
No, in fact I crave it.
Inside my breast lurks a ravenous hunger
That sooner or later only it can
Fill. And only it I will feed.

It is not lost on me,
She who fought so hard to live
Is dead.

I who fight so hard to die, lives.
Lives, and lives and lives.
And is alive still.

To write of this accord.
This account—and in between
The sighs of sadness,
My confused eye is still at a loss.

But all at once a clarity emerges.
A certainty. I still miss her.
Yes, Regina.

I still miss you my friend.

Ain’t I a Woman
I never knew what it meant
To be a woman.

I treated my womanhood like an
Old pair of jeans.

Ready to wear, and then
Through in the hamper when need be.

It wasn’t until my friend became sick,
That my eyes were opened.

You see the chemo took her hair away,
Made it retreat from her scalp in clumps.

Her hair for me was her signature thing.
Those long brown locks, where now gone.
Nowhere to be found.
No point of return,
She decided to go bald.

I decided to tag along.

Her husband cut off my hair,
And took what was left of hers.
His shiny clippers scalped us to the roots.

Leaving nothing to the imagination.
And as the breeze of winter blew
Over my head,

I realized that she and I were women.
And nothing can ever remove that truth.

No cancer, not baldness.
Not death or fear of the unknown.

I see her eyes closed
But I cannot believe the sight.

All that I have known to be
Is dead.

Her sweet memory now,
Just a ghost. A past tense
Within my head.

And were you a monster,
I could blame you for this!
This sabotage,
This plot, this coup d'état.

But you were just an echo
Of the pain she could not let go,
In the end, it was a slow suicide.

Her breast filled with an ancient ache.
To spread within her bodice,
becoming an unbearable weight.

In the end it took over.
Crushed her body,
The pain a rock-slide manifested.
Our hopes,
Our dreams,
The visions of a happy ending
All were bested.
All were bested.

Photo: Shutterstock

Nicole Goodwin is a poet, writer, mother, veteran and dreamer living and working out of Harlem, USA.