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Looking for God in Cardboard Boxes and Tissue Samples

By Kerry KehoePublished 4 months ago Updated 3 months ago 5 min read

The doctor notices my tears while she glides the ultrasound over my left breast, marking the spots she’ll be biopsying. I had tried my best to reign in my emotions but they erupt under the pressure of a long week. She hands me a tissue.

“My concern is low, really. I can’t rule out a mass without a sample, but I don’t think that’s what we’re looking at” she assures me. I believe her. I fully expect benign results. It’s just a lot to process at the moment.

In the waiting room between the ultrasound and biopsy I had texted my best friend: “Trying to remember that God won’t give me more than I can handle.” “Fuck that,” she replied. “Sometimes he DOES. But he also gives us therapy, and medicine. And friendship.” We are both mostly agnostic anymore, but God is still the best name to use when I want to believe in forces at work.

The lidocaine will go in first, numbing the area. After that I will feel pressure, but shouldn’t feel pain. The doctor warns me there will be a loud click as each needle is inserted. There will be three separate incisions to extract tissue samples, and then a fourth to insert a tiny piece of titanium to help doctors find the potential mass in the future if needed. The titanium will stay in my body forever. What a time to be alive.

The pain from the lidocaine shot is significant but fades quickly, and the doctor’s assistant holds my hand while I grimace through the worst of it. I thank them for squeezing in the biopsy today since I have moved back to my hometown, two hours away. I had scheduled the ultrasound appointment for today while I’m in town to pack up the last of my belongings from the house I still own with my ex. I’ve been putting it off for nearly a year while I’d been crashing in a friend's basement, but now I’ve signed a lease and it is time to move forward. I haven’t established doctors in my new town yet. I haven’t even formally changed my address yet. It’s too sad.


I tell them how the last time I moved was five years earlier, at first high on the thrill of buying a house I thought would be my forever home with a person I thought would be my forever person. Packing up boxes in anticipation of moving to a new place I was excited about had its charms, until my sister died suddenly six days before closing. Now I’m packing boxes to leave a home I love, for a home and a life I’m far from thrilled about. Grief and moving boxes are now intricately connected in my mind.


I say I’m trying to be optimistic, but I think I made a mistake in moving back to my hometown. That it doesn’t feel right, that I’m going to miss the city I’ve lived in for twenty years. That even though my relationship had died a long, painful death after all this time it still feels somehow more painful to finally completely let go. That the change is too much. The assistant, still holding my hand, says I don’t need to be optimistic, I just need to keep breathing and let each day unfold as it will.


I apologize for being so emotional and for unloading all of this. They tell me I’m doing great, just one last poke to insert the titanium and we’ll be done. I thank them for listening and being so kind. They advise me that it might take up to a week for results, that I’ll need to use an ice pack for the rest of the day, that there will be bruising and tenderness for awhile.


The next evening I stare at my yellow and blue tinged breast in the bathroom mirror of my no-longer-forever-home. It is sore and I hope the beating it has taken is a worthwhile trade for peace of mind. I notice that familiar urge to be optimistic, but I remember the doctor’s assistant saying I don’t have to be, and it is oddly comforting. I practice some deep breathing, noticing my bruised breast gently rising and falling with my breath.

“Try not to borrow trouble” my best friend texts alongside the praying hands emoji. An agnostic’s prayers are the most earnest, because when an agnostic prays there’s usually a hell of a reason.

I think about all of the pain we endure to prevent the possibility of worse pain. Like a biopsy, or staying in a relationship you hope will improve, or leaving a relationship that has lost the hope of improving. It seems everything is a gamble no matter what we do, and in the end hope and faith don’t really impact the outcome much. Faith is a bandaid. Faithful people die in terrible ways every minute. The only thing that makes any difference in the end is information. Benign, move on with your life. Malignant, start treatment. I wish there was a biopsy to tell me if moving to a back to my hometown will ultimately be a benign move, or if the toxicity of staying in my relationship would have continued to grow like a cancer. What a pity that outside of potentially painful medical procedures the only way to get more information about outcomes is through hindsight. Sometimes it’s just easier to fill in the time with hope or faith or optimism while you wait on the results.

Grief and moving boxes continue to fill my days while I wait. “Leaving here feels like removing a Siamese twin” I text my best friend. (I suppose I have surgery on my mind.) “The only way now is forward,” she reminds me. She has been in therapy a lot longer than me, and this is usually quite apparent in our text threads.

I’m still banking on God not giving me more than I can handle, because I can’t wrap my head around the cruelty of having to deal with breast cancer right now. But in the meantime, I am feeling pretty grateful that he’s given me good doctors and therapy and friendship. Guess I’m just going to keep breathing as long as breathing is an option and hold on tight for life’s results. Who needs optimism anyway?

—-Author’s note: the results, praise God, are benign. I have a non-cancerous fibroid tumor, which simply requires regular monitoring. I have another mammogram in six months.


About the Creator

Kerry Kehoe

badly navigated excursions into form and light >>>

self-indulgent attempts to write personal essays on the subject of being human + whatever else pours out

all photos are my own.

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Comments (2)

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  • Rachel Deeming2 months ago

    So pleased that your results were okay. This was such an honest piece of writing, Kerry. I was gripped. Wishing you well. Mammograms are the worst. Your friend - definitely a keeper.

  • Test2 months ago

    Beautifully written. Such a scary time though - I am glad tht you are OK. Mammograms are just awful!

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