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Do I Know the Lady in the Picture?

by Pamela Estes

Inspiration image

A girl with a short, choppy haircut looks back at me. She’s not young, not old, but dangling somewhere in between. Do I know her? Is she a part of my past, perhaps an old friend, or just someone I thought I once knew?

She appears to be happy about something. But it’s just a driver’s license photo. Who’s been happy about a driver’s license photo since they got their first one?

The license reads:

DOB 11-05-1964
Wt. 131 (Who is she kidding?)
Sex: F
Ht. 5-02

Equipped with red lipstick, blush, and dangling earrings, she appears to be a non-traditionalist. Who wears their hair like that on purpose?

I wonder about this person. What is most important to her? What does she strive for? Is this look intentional or just the best she has? With a smile, I realize that just maybe she has worked hard for this unflattering appearance, that she is making the best of the hand she’s been dealt.

You never know where the cards may fall. Her hand was dealt early one morning when she awakened to a throbbing pain in her left breast. In the shower, she felt a mysterious knot and knew it was time to make the phone call.

I wonder about this person. What is most important to her? What does she strive for?

As the next few days swirled her through mammograms, specialists in Memphis, and explanations to family, she froze in time. Mammogram on Wednesday, biopsy on Thursday, results on Friday, and surgery on Monday. It all seemed unreal, but she didn’t have time to think. While recuperating at home with doctor-prompted optimism, the phone call came. The cancer in her breast was invasive, stage III.

The next year is a trying, yet learning, experience. Treatment after treatment, months of sickness caused by intense chemotherapy and radiation create the lady in the picture – the one with the skimpy hair, makeup to cover her hollow black eyes, and earrings to divert from her drained face.

Looking again at the lady in the picture, I realize I do know her, very well. She has learned that the cards dealt may not be fair, but at least she’s still holding a hand.

The “she” is me. I am the lady in the picture. As she smiles in the photo, I now smile as I look at her. I do know her. She is my shadow. She is the best I have.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2010.