c is for cancer

my a-ko has cancer. i’ve never struggled to process four words strung together as painfully and helplessly as i have struggled to make sense of this sentence.

my a-ko is seventy-one. she’s never been seriously sick, was diagnosed with hypertension only in her late sixties, and can out-walk me in divisoria any day; how can she have cancer?

it started innocently enough, with a routine breast exam and a routine screening mammogram. she’s passed both before without incident and this was expected to be just that, routine. something one dutifully endures once a year; a bothersome chore, really.

only this time there was something. a tiny, tiny little thing big enough to cause the doctor’s brow to crease in concern, and his fingers to slow, to pause, and to probe a second time. a tiny, tiny little thing.

i got the message from the doctor’s office three days after her mammogram. her slides reflected something suspicious. he had to see her a second time, to be sure.

bi-rads 4. moderate suspicion. microcalcifications.

lumpectomy. mastectomy. frozen section biopsy.

estrogen-receptor positive. radiation therapy. chemotherapy.

two weeks later, there was a long, dark line of stitching where her right breast used to be, and a rubber tube running out her side, to drain fluid from the wound.

those two weeks went by so fast. each minute of those two weeks felt like a decade.

and still, somewhere at the back of my mind, a voice continues to ask, how can she have cancer?