Saturday 23 September 2017


by Kathleen Murphey

That’s the crab, right, the fourth sign of the zodiac?
People born at the end of June and into July,
intuitive and sentimental people.
Sadly, no. “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma,”
IDC, a form of Breast Cancer.
Cancer, “a malignant tumor of potentially
unlimited growth that expands locally, by invasion,
and systemically, by metastasis.”
Cancer or “canker,” Old English from the Latin
for “crab or creeping ulcer,” so-called because of
the swollen, inflamed veins around the tumor,
resembling the limbs of a crab.

Hippocrates classified two kinds,
“carcinos,” non-ulcer-forming tumors
and “carcinomas,” ulcer-forming tumors.
Ductal carcinoma starts in the milk ducts
while Lobular carcinoma starts in the
milk-producing glands.
The breast, the giver of life,
milk and sustenance and comfort,
The breast, the taker of life,
with cells mutating and spreading disease.
One in eight American women will have it,
joining legions of women,
some Running or Walking for the Cure,
decked out in pink, at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month,
with even NFL players sporting pink.

So many terms, I wasn’t familiar with,
Adnocystic, Adenosquamous, Mucinous,
Papillary, Tubular, Metaplastic, Micropapillary,
Inflammatory, Paget Disease of the Nipple,
Phyllodes Tumor, Angiosarcoma.
And cancer has grades.  Not A, B, C,
but Grade 1, 2, 3, 4,
One, the best or least advanced,
and Four, the worst or most advanced.
Within grades, there are scores, 3-9:
Grade 1, Score 3, 4, or 5,
Grade 2, Score 6 or 7,
Grade 3, Score 8 or 9.
I am hoping for Grade 1, Score 3.

Funny, how the Gail Scale,
a Breast Cancer Assessment Tool,
gave me a rating of 11.8% likely of developing
breast cancer, but now that’s all shot to hell.
Bilateral breast biopsies,
and a diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in both breasts.
A surgeon talking double mastectomy or
double lumpectomy with radiation.
Not breasts sacrificed for Amazonian glory,
but ones amputated because of the toxin within.
I want to wake up and just associate cancer
with the zodiac crab, an astrological sign,
but the crab has always been associated with the disease,
tentacles and limbs spreading out, crab-like,
metastasizing and infecting, other organs and systems.
Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, I’ll do what it takes.
I’m not ready to go down without a fight.

* * * * *

Kathleen Murphey is an associate professor of English at Community College of Philadelphia.  Recently, she has been writing fiction (both short stories and poetry) on women’s and social justice issues.  To learn more about her work, see

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