Breast Cancer: Being One Among Many. A Reflection by Mary Oak

Mary Oak, MFA, is author of Heart’s Oratorio: One Woman’s Journey through Love, Death and Modern Medicine (Goldenstone Press, 2013). She is currently working on a patient’s handbook for cultivating inner resources to undergo surgery and medical interventions. Her poem "Love Compounded"  appears in the Spring 2016 Intima.

Mary Oak, MFA, is author of Heart’s Oratorio: One Woman’s Journey through Love, Death and Modern Medicine (Goldenstone Press, 2013). She is currently working on a patient’s handbook for cultivating inner resources to undergo surgery and medical interventions. Her poem "Love Compounded"  appears in the Spring 2016 Intima.

A strong attribute of narrative medicine is to find common ground, the universal that shines through in the particulars of each individual experience of illness and the healing journey. I appreciate the opportunity to compare and contrast a companion poem in Intima with my own.  

 Konstantina Georganta begins her poem, “Breast Unit” with, “It’s time frozen and the persistent struggle to maintain a normality, which does not reveal the change that may come”—thus giving a potent articulation of the terrain walked upon in an early phase of serious illness—an attempt to fend off the inevitable. 

Georganta deftly characterizes breast cancer from the perspective of a collective experience. This is powerful and a vital reminder that we are not alone in our suffering. Her “we” gives a sense of solidarity with others: “At some other time, we might have surrendered”. This is a sharp distinction from the solitary figure depicted in my narrative poem, “Love Compounded”, although the sense of being one among many with this disease is highlighted. We both address the struggle to maintain normality, which we express in different ways, and then we move on.  

Indeed, both of our poems feature the sense of combat being counterpoised by consolation— her soothing, “Our silences meet./ We sleep all together under the sea./ We like it here.” offers comfort, and both poems lead to eventual surrender: her soil that “…speaks softly and often says nothing/ yet it flows, always flows, and takes us away/ further and further away…” and my “No magic, no cure, only soothing ways to cross the illuminated threshold lifting out of suffering’s sear, lifting beyond struggle to another sphere.” Both of our poems culminate in a gesture of accepting the unavoidable, beyond the struggle. John Fox calls poems that offer healing, “Poetic Medicine.” I feel that quality in “Breast Unit.” I hope that these poems, and many others in the pages of Intima, will ultimately offer others a sense of peace.  


Mary Oak, MFA, is author of Heart’s Oratorio: One Woman’s Journey through Love, Death and Modern Medicine (Goldenstone Press, 2013). She is currently working on a patient’s handbook for cultivating inner resources to undergo surgery and medical interventions. She teaches creative writing and works as a writing guide in Seattle with a focus on writing as a way of healing. www.MaryOak.com

© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

Source: www.theintima.org