Powwow at Camp Smooshabosom

By T'Mara Goodsell

Powwow at Camp Smooshabosom

Thanks to the upcoming holiday weekend, there are a lot of us. Thanks to HIPAA laws, we are random numbers now. I am given a little card that renames me 83. We’ve progressed through the check-in process, the outer waiting room and the changing rooms. We have stored our clothing in small lockers, and now we are sitting in the inner waiting room in a rough circle like campers, wearing our matching pink print gowns from the waist up. Like members of a club: A girls’ club – one with really bad uniforms – The club of We-Possess-Breasts-That-Have-The-Potential-to-Kill-Us-So-We-Have-Them-Mangled-And-Irradiated-in-a-Big-Cold-Machine-Once-a-Year. That club.

We are all shapes and colors and ages over forty. I look around at the gowns to see if I’ve tied mine right and notice we’ve all managed the curious array of snaps, wraps and ties a little differently, and I wonder if one could glean insights about our personalities from the way we’ve tied ours. Number 44, a petite, bubbly woman of about 50 who hasn’t bothered to tie hers at all, but merely wads it closed in front of her, asks the other campers if they know how we get our results. “Do they call? Send a letter?”

“Letter,” Number 29 says. She’s a texter who is maybe in her mid-40s, but she stops texting long enough to tell us. Her gown is snapped and tied neatly, but not wrapped.

Bubbly 44 asks if people have been waiting long. Nervous. Maybe she got a bad tech last year. I had one of those once. I screamed, undoubtedly scaring the other campers half to death.

On second thought, I hope that’s what she’s nervous about.

“Anyone here a breast cancer survivor?” Bubbly 44 asks.

A hand goes up. Number 75. Her gown is tied neatly, but not wrapped or snapped, as if she is resigned to the process and ready to get it over with. “Double breast cancer survivor,” she says, non-proudly. “Two different breasts. Two different kinds.” She has beautiful skin and is maybe in her late 50s. No history of breast cancer in her family, no genes for it and then BOOM! Found a lump. The second time, no one thought it was cancer again. “One was hormone-receptive and the other not.” Whatever that means.

I don’t want to find out.

Bubbly number 44 slides over and gives 75 a hug. The texter, 29, tells 75 she can tell she is a fighter. A fighter who wins. She could tell from the cute outfit she noticed in the outer waiting room, the brightness of the colors. 75’s over-washed pink gown replaces part of the outfit and covers some of the rest, but it’s clear she has on Caribbean-colored jewelry and pretty coral shoes.

Encouraged, 75 tells more of her story. Intravenous chemo for one, and not for the other, because the nodes they removed were clear that time, thank heavens. At some point during her treatment – the second, not the first time – her 21-year-old son died. Killed. It was a car accident. “What do you do? You survive. That’s all you can do.”

I can feel the mothers in the room cease to breathe for a moment. Bubbly 44 is called in, gives another hug on her way, but we are all rendered speechless except for 75. For her, it’s as if something has been uncorked. She is talking now to the room in general. “You survive, right? Just get through it. That’s all you can do.”

Several more numbers have entered: 62, who looks shockingly young to me, quietly says she has the gene for breast cancer. She has to deal with it. Doesn’t say what that means. She is wrapped snugly or maybe defensively, and snapped and tied. For some reason, 62 gets called in right away, ahead of all of us. Then 29, the texter, goes in.

My own gown appears to be tied all catawampus. I threw it on, pretending that my lack of care would somehow make the experience equally insignificant. I’ve learned to be Play-Doh in there. Face this way. Chin here. Grab the bar. Closer. Lift. Deep breath. And hold. Step back. Other side. Uncomfortable, awkward, assembly line poses for the camera. Our club photos. And then I will escape into the bright sunlight. I have a reward set up: I’m meeting a friend for lunch. Mold. Compress. Go.

Pray “The Letter” bears good news. Hope they don’t call you to come back.

“83,” the tech calls.

“What can you do?” Number 75 is still asking.

You do this, I think. Exactly what she is doing. Exactly what the others did. They make me proud to have been allowed in, however briefly.

I squeeze her shoulder on my way to face the machine and wish her all the best. She will be in my prayers, and also 62 and her time bomb-genes. Both have said their names: Barb. And Lisa. Uttered like secret passwords to our club. Because we really are a club, aren’t we? The club of people who struggle sometimes through life on this earth, loving our families and trying to find happiness in spite of the bad things. This is how we survive. This is how we thrive. When we do this – hold hands around the campfire – we make each other stronger.

And we do it by stubbornly refusing to be just numbers waiting to be called.

About this writer

  • T’Mara Goodsell is an award-winning multi-genre writer who lives near St. Louis, Missouri. She has written for various anthologies, newspapers, and publications and is working on a book for young adults.

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20 Responses to “Powwow at Camp Smooshabosom”

  1. Pat says:

    Such a touching story, and so very true.

  2. You’ve said it remarkably well… and then some. I love your title!

  3. Thank for this, Tammy. We really are all together in this.

  4. Your story moved me to tears. We all know these women. The pink gowns and how they were wrapped and fastened spoke volumes. This story should go viral. It is wonderful and very relatable.

    • I later realized I should have played up the image of “Bubbly 44,” because the way she was holding her gown closed made her look like she was holding a fist at her heart. What a powerful symbol now that I think of it! Anyway, thank you so, so much, Linda. Your comment almost moved me to tears.

  5. Donna Volkenannt says:

    What an inspiring post that iced me to tears. I felt like I was there with you, holding my breath, wishing you all well.

  6. Theresa Sanders says:

    I love this, T’Mara. It is so very real, so very heartbreaking. Having been in the call-back and biopsy club, I know how frightening this process can be. What’s remarkable, though, is the way you’ve closed on such an inspiring note. I adore the line about how we women struggle in this life sometimes, yet go on loving our families and trying to find happiness in spite of the bad things. This IS how we thrive. Thank you for such a beautiful, beautiful essay.

    • Thank you so very much, Theresa. Sending best wishes that all turned out well with that call-back! I still feel so privileged to have witnessed strong women at their very best. It really was inspiring.

  7. Dianna says:

    What a great essay! Loved it. And yes, it inspired me to get my overdue mammogram.

  8. I appreciate not only your comment, Dianna, but the idea that this might have inspired something positive!

  9. Val says:

    Spoken and unspoken bonds. They get us through. Well done.

  10. Sioux says:

    T’Mara–I was so able to relate to your story. Women who go through this every year–we all can nod as we read and think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I feel… Yeah, that’s how it is… Yeah, that’s it, for sure.’ However, you also distilled it down to what it is REALLY all about. It’s really all about surviving. You’ve reminded us of the seriousness and the nobleness of this uncomfortable procedure.

  11. I appreciate it, Sioux! I feel like this amazing group of women were the ones who reminded me, though. I’m lucky in more ways than one.

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