Art & Poetry in Medicine, Clinical, Featured, Internal Medicine
Leave a comment

Mastectomy Shadows

This manuscript was submitted to the April 2019 Arts in Medicine theme issue.

Author’s note: The poem is inspired by a patient actor’s humorous words on the breast exam and an oncology clinic patient showing me her mastectomy scars.

I used to joke that after having my twin girls, my breasts no longer belonged to me.
Forget about possession, let’s talk about existence.
I used to relish the moment after I pulled a blouse over my head
And watched the fabric billow around my stomach
Until it rested softly on my two pillars of femininity
Drawing attention gracefully to the gentle valley
Where my husband could reap pleasure and my daughters would sow pain on the sensitive soil.
Now, I can forego the sinful bras filled with Italian lace and whorls of tiny pearls
That inevitably had some wire poking stubbornly into my chest, a punishment for my vanity.
It saves me some time in the morning and means less laundry on Sundays.
I run my hands over the crevices of my jagged scars
Demarcating my two-year journey like a decorated soldier.
They remind me of how many times I fell
And how I eventually rose up and returned home.

Can I feel anything inside? I always thought that maybe if I pressed hard enough
I could feel some elevation.
A small hill, puny to be sure, but enough to remind me of my former self
Just like when you can still see the moon on the 6 a.m. commute and it reminds you, menacingly, that
Darkness did dominate the sky, even though it is sunny right now.
No. I don’t feel anything. No feminine rise, no tenderness,
No unwelcome invaders creeping their way into my soft tissue and
Building their forces in secret until they burst out at my next physical exam.
Perhaps it is better this way.
If my breasts were plump and bouncing and encased in silk there would be more places for them to hide
In the shadows of my narcissism and the rise and fall of my shirts.
An enemy can’t hide in the open plain.

Image credit: Gladiolus” by Paulette Pham is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Shirin Karimi, MD Shirin Karimi, MD (2 Posts)

Resident Physician Contributing Writer

Cambridge Health Alliance

Originally from Madison, Connecticut, I got to experience a dynamic college experience as a Literature major at American University in Washington D.C. I served as an editor for BleakHouse Publishing, a press dedicated to using the arts to showcase the humanity overlooked in the incarcerated population. As a volunteer in a pediatric cancer ward, I was intrigued by the sentiments of cancer patients and their caregivers, whose descriptions of isolation in the hospital echoed the loss of identity and entrapment within a prison cell. From this experience, I was fortunate to publish an original book of poetry, Enclosures: Reflections from the Prison Cell and the Hospital Bed, taking on the voices of those imprisoned in the justice system and in the shackles of illness. I returned to my home state to attend the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and delved into my passion for the medical humanities through the Arnold P. Gold Humanism Honor Society, research in cancer screening and immunotherapy, and serving the homeless population of Hartford as a member of the Board of our school-run medical clinic. I’m honored to be a third year resident in Internal Medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, MA and to work at an institution that values medicine as an avenue to promote social justice.