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  • Ellen K. Reichman

The Pebble

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Published in Persimmon Tree, Fall 2023

A routine mammogram showed nothing. Dense breasts. Yet I felt a little something. A very little something.


I began a dialogue in my head. One part of my brain encouraged me to check it out. The other part disagreed. What you feel is the denseness, a little pebble. Absolutely nothing.

Thankfully, I listened to the relentless voice and made an appointment to see my gynecologist. She felt the pebble and scheduled an ultrasound.


I suspected something might be wrong when the technician called the radiologist in while I was still on the table. I anxiously asked the radiologist—a tall, dark, stern-looking man who had a propensity to lie—what he thought. He mumbled, more into his armpit than making eye contact with me. “Not sure. Could be cancer.”


NOT SURE?! Could be cancer! I’m not sure about you Dr. Radiologist. You could be a liar.


He turned out to be right. A lumpectomy was scheduled. I followed up with an oncologist to discuss further treatment. The nurse who saved my life listened to some of my history and ordered an MRI.


The MRI found two additional malignant tumors. Consulting with radiology/oncology, I opted for the most aggressive treatment: double mastectomy, chemo, hormone therapy.


I felt detached from my body, a dreamlike existence. Aware of what was happening, but convinced I’d wake up soon and discover I didn’t have cancer. And still had my breasts.


The big decision became my job. Working as a high school counselor is demanding. How could I work and undergo chemo? But I worried about taking a leave of absence and becoming too self-focused and depressed.


My oncologist asked that I reduce my hours to half time. I was hopeful a clerical person could be hired, as a good deal of high school counseling involves record keeping.


The administration agreed, but as the year progressed, my caseload and work responsibility stayed the same. I was expected to do everything in half the time.


Although exhausted and nauseous most of the time, I connected with my students.


My co-workers and I pleaded with the teachers union to make some changes. Finally, toward the very end of the year, I received help.


There were days after chemo that I crawled under the covers. This became an indicator of my mood. Under meant darkness is swallowing me; on top meant lightness peeked through.

Per my doctor’s orders, I’d walk a marathon each day. Rather, I’d walk thirty minutes each day. It just felt like a marathon.


I meditated and did yoga. Doing yoga meant I showed up, did what I could and mostly concentrated on breathing and staying on the mat.


Why would I be tooting my horn? Why would I stay in a toxic, unsupportive school environment?


Why didn’t I walk out?


I stayed because I’m strong and committed to youth. I didn’t allow cancer to define me. Not then. Not ever. I’m not a victim. Kudos to me.

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