What I Learned from Breast Cancer
This past autumn, the nurses and doctors in the cancer center dedicated a painting of a nurse to hang in the chemo suite in Inga's honor. They invited me to attend the ceremony and to read the letter I'd written in praise of Inga that had been published in the local newspaper. The event was held in a back room of the cancer center, a room I'd passed a hundred times when it was buzzing with physicians in white coats and pictures of luminous bones on light boxes. This day, it was laid out with cheese and crackers and a lime green sherbet punch that looked a little too much like a chemo agent for my taste.
I was the only patient in the room among a sea of faces who had saved my life over and over during the last 13 years. But one face in that room stood out. And it stood out at the chin. Inga's daughter, Susan, was at the far end of the room, standing between her father and her brother. They were both leaning on her, heads inclined toward that deep narrow chin, like an icicle with the tip snapped off. The daughter is a replica of the mother, I thought to myself, her complexion as soft, her strength as apparent, her movement as graceful. And before I even realized what I was doing, my eyes sought — and found — in Susan's boots and her bag and her jewelry a series of elongated misshapen triangles.
I read my letter about Inga, about how her dignity made an unforgettable difference in the life of a patient. Reading the words, I worked really hard to hold back my tears so that everything wouldn't become a blur. I couldn't stand to miss a moment of watching Inga's unparalleled brand of comfort still, apparently, so hard at work.
Three strong women, three unique journeys. Excerpts from the essays by our runners-up.
My Third Lung
My new physician entered the room. I told her I had many doctors who had been poking at me every day. It was getting old. But my new doctor crossed her arms and looked through me with intensity. She then placed her delicate hands on the right side of my ribs. I would not deny her this exam. It was important to both of us. She was my daughter, Morgan. She was 6, and just trying to cope with my latest bout with breast cancer.
-Laura Walsh Plunkett, 36, Overland Park, KS