I am reading in the garden, pool side, when I notice the gathering clouds and hear the rumble in the distance, so I dart inside the house to lie down on the living room sofa. My husband is already napping upstairs.

Claps of thunder before rain begins to drum against the tall windows as I drift off to sleep, a rare occurrence. I seldom take naps. When I slowly come to, the clouds have dispersed and the sun has moved from my field of view. It is pre-dusk on a clear summer evening. Suspended between sleep and  consciousness, I hear the children in the neighborhood across  the pond laugh and shriek. Then their shrieks get shriller,  the kind of shrieks that come not from joy but from fear or conflict. Quickly, their squeals  turn back to merriment and laughter.

I try to orient myself in space and time, drifting between the here and now, and previous places and decades. I am back in my own childhood, resting in bed, perhaps with a mild fever. The neighborhood children play kick the can, race across the lawns, hide behind the sloan hedges and among lilac bushes. These sounds from five decades ago  mingle in my mind, not only with the present shrieks, but with shrieks and laughter from my own children, two decades earlier, in a state 1500 miles from here. The same joyful shrieks, the same quick swings between  fear and  laughter.  As I rest on my sofa, the scent of those lilacs from far away and long ago is so intense that  I half expect my mother to enter the room with a glass of lemonade or a comic book, or my three children to come crashing through the back door.

I get up from the sofa to retire up stairs. I continue re-reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. (I read it already in January, months before I knew, now I have the strong urge to re-visit her experience.)

“Life changes fast” she writes. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.”

Only, I don’t feel self-pity, I just feel amazed. I am amazed that this happens to a person, who on the maternal side, descends from a long line of women with dour expressions and whose gloomy longevity allowed them to reach  87, 92, 97, 99 years of age.  Could it be my newly discovered paternal grandmother , Carolina Jansdotter, dead at 39 , who is the culprit, the poison in my gene pool?

Or did the environment throw a wrench into my DNA machinery? After all, what does it matter if your food is cooked from scratch if there are hormones and antibiotics in the meats, mercury and PCB in the fish, pesticides on the vegetables, estrogen in your water, genetic manipulation of grain and fruits, chemicals in your cosmetics and lotions, detergent and soaps. Formaldehyde fumes  in your floors, ceilings and walls.

According to you get cancer one of three ways:  inherited,  environmental damage to DNA,  or a combination of both. So, no self-pity –  yet. Just amazement and anxiety, and a great deal of curiosity: how did I get it? Want went wrong inside my breast? The more I learned about the cancer, the more I realize that this disease is highly unpredictable. A Stage I can accelerate without warning and against all odds.   A Stage III can be beaten back , also against all odds. Cancer is still deadly, not much progress has been made towards finding a cure. And it is clear that  a lot of unpleasantness and expense is involved in trying to beat it back.

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