A cluster, I say,
so small – see? I can cover it
with the tip of my finger. Tiny little
calcifications. I show
you the mammogram.
I orient you to your own breast,
shown in unfamiliar form. You need
a biopsy, I say. They will
numb you up and take
out some material
with a special needle
and then we can see
what we are dealing with here.

Is it cancer? You ask.
We don’t know yet, I say.
Maybe, maybe not. It could
be something, it could be nothing.
The thing is, it is small, this cluster,
see? I can cover it with my
fingertip. We can deal with this,
you and I.

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Pulse Writing Contest

"On Being Different"

Carol Scott-Conner is professor and chair emeritus in the department of surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. In 2013, a routine screening mammogram led to her own diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer. She recently attained her graduate certificate in narrative healthcare from Lenoir-Rhyne University and continues in their MFA program. Her prose and poetry explore the relationships between surgeons and patients.

About the Poem

“Highly sensitive digital mammography sometimes reveals tiny clusters of calcifications which are unlikely to represent true invasive breast cancer. Biopsy is recommended because they may be premalignant lesions or even small areas of ductal carcinoma in situ, the earliest form of breast cancer. In cases where micro calcifications were detected, I developed a routine explanation that I used to attempt to reassure these women, who often came to me terrified. I would pull up their mammogram on my computer screen and show them how I could cover the cluster with the tip of my finger. This poem bears witness to such an encounter.”


4 thoughts on “Microcalcifications”

  1. That is a delicate balance talking with patients about a potentially alarming finding. You have struck that middle ground very well.

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