copyright © 2003 Ed Malin

How I Survived Breast Cancer

by Ed Malin



You’re probably wondering why I have three breasts. Well that’s a long story.

I mean, there was a time when I had no breasts at all. And as a little girl on those summer nights I remember looking up at the belt of Orion. Those three blazing stars. I would sit in the grass with my brother, Moe-Jo. We would play our own improvised version of baseball, though it more resembled cricket without the sadism. I loved to slide headfirst into third base. Then after a whole day of it, when our clothes were as dirty as the sky, we’d peer up at the constellations and be happy we weren’t grown ups because old people are fat. My brother’s dead now. A gentle reminder from mother nature that things come in pairs so she can destroy one with impunity.

Some years after Moe-Jo’s funeral, my parents got divorced. Divide and conquer. I was as free as I ever was. My father was the first to re-nuptialize. Then my mother became part of a group marriage. So I had something like five parents now. I was very over-surveilled.

I fled to college. There I ended up with a double major. Which turned into a major and a minor. And then copious sex with minors. I was a dysfunctional girl. I admit it. The normal balance of life was…off balance. I did it with every high school junior I could find. Bobby. Jared. Elmo. Sometimes anonymous boys. One guy’s name I’ll never know because he was a mute. It was confusing. I always thought he was cumming but he was just going "uhhh uhhh uhhh".

One time after this jock had blown 50 bucks on a bottle of champagne so I could blow him in the middle of the woods, I had my first and last DWI adventure. I ran the car into a… The last thing I remember was the airbag inflating as I heaved forward into the steering wheel. My breasts survived in tact. A little bruised but still that was nothing compared to my date of the evening.

It was, however, on this occasion that the doctors who were feeling me up discovered a lump, which led to a biopsy. Breast cancer? In a 20 year-old? I hadn’t led a risky life. Four hours of color television viewing every night and a steady diet of Jiff peanut butter and diet coke.

I discussed the options with my five parents. Mastectomy. Guess which one? Ah, I’m just fuckin’ with ya.


It hurts so much just to talk about it. I had two of them. And just like that, down to one. All alone on my thorax. The pre-college boys were freaked out by me now. I had to lower that age to sixteen and then fifteen. Dorks. Sci-fi kids who were used to rolling Dungeons and Dragons dice, so they were satisfied to palm my remaining teton, unafraid of jagged edges, content with the horror of geometry.

As agreed, I came into a certain sum of money after graduation. I set off to the hottest destination I could fathom. Pittsburgh, PA. The plastic surgery capital of the world. Just me and a man-child who had just received his driver’s permit. Every night of our road trip, as he fathomed my vagina, my mind filled with unorthodox numbers. How the total of parents I possessed had multiplied like cancer. But how the seven of them took turns by my hospital bedside, seeing me through darkness into light, a machine that never shut down. And that’s when I first envisioned the perpetual motion machine. You know, three suspended metal balls positioned so if you knock #1 against #2, #2 knocks against #3 and back again and back again. Imagine what a statement it would be to have that on my chest.

She shakes back and forth to demonstrate.

And so I went into the plastic surgeon’s office–pretending not to notice the Oscar Meyer processing plant next door–lay down my cash and smiled at the good doctor.

Just like I’m smiling at you now.


All alone in the moonlight

I can smile at the old days

I was beautiful then

I remember a time I knew what happiness was

Let the mammaries live again


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