The Brutal Truth by Helen Beer

The Brutal Truth

The Brutal Truth

by Helen Beer

I help you shimmy out of your bright
white, polyester blouse; its delicate
lace pattern all but screams
Southern gentility. But it’s a ruse.
The ancient Playtex bra beneath it,
the elastic stretched out by years—
no, decades—of use reveals the
truth: a fierce pragmatism, a lack of
vanity, a Depression-era sensibility.
You slip the straps off each
shoulder, remove your arms, one
by one, from the straps’ confines,
then twist the bulk of the bra
around, its clasp now in front where, in
a well-practiced move, you release
yourself, and your breasts pour
forth. The steri-strips remain on
your left breast, barely covering the
bruised and battered flesh, roadmaps
of the multiple core biopsies from a
week earlier. I help you into
the “vest,” as they call it, the soft
drape, with ties in front—but not
before I notice the familiar shape
and size of your breasts. They could
be mine.
The genetics don’t lie. You
take the arm I proffer, you let me help
you to a seated position on the exam
table. I poke my head out the door,
say, “She’s ready” to the nurse. It’s
loaded language; for who is truly
ready to hear the news that’ll be
delivered—the brutal truth of it?
You’re ninety-four; you’ve come this
far. Yes, you’ve had setbacks, pain,
losses of far too many friends and
family. “Comes with the territory,”
you say. The surgeon knocks and
enters, his smile genuine, his stride
confident. You have every reason
to feel vulnerable, nervous, worried
over the looming pandemic. He
introduces himself, shakes your
hand, then releases the drape. You
sit there, wearing your nakedness
with confidence; you’re stoic, calm,
beautiful. The news is delivered; you
have a plan now. It’s what you wanted,
needed. It was the not knowing part
that had you rattled. Yes, you’re
ninety-four. You’re determined to
fight. Stage 3 triple negative breast
cancer is not going to kill you, of that
you are certain. Your default
pragmatism kicks in. You don’t need
your left breast, after all; removing it
gives you the best chance to survive a
few more years. A few more years to
see your grandson buy his first home;
to take care of your rescue kitties; to
play twice weekly games of bridge; to
read hundreds more books; to finally see
a woman in the White House; to
practice your beloved Tai Chi; to
walk the halls, with gusto, every day.
“You are fierce,” I say.
“Schedule a mammogram,” you say.
“Yes, Mom,” I say.


Helen Beer sells for a living, as a sales engineer for an industrial foundry, and writes to maintain some semblance of sanity. She is the author of numerous short stories, poetry, essays, and feature screenplays, some of which have actually seen the light of day--through publication, or contest honors--while some remain hidden under a rock somewhere. She's an old married fart with three cats, a horse, and an adventurous human son.

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