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Thirteen Ways of Looking at Metastatic Breast Cancer


Poet Laureate Joy Harjo describes poems as “openings in darkness,” which “hear what’s beneath” sensory experience. After my early-stage breast cancer diagnosis, I published Repaired (Finishing Line Press, 2016), a chapbook of poems that I wrote in order to make sense of my lived experience.

In this poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Metastatic Breast Cancer,” I adopted the numbered container of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” to hold thirteen different perspectives or ways to look at metastatic breast cancer. In my poem, I use metaphors–A is B or in this case, metastatic breast cancer is–to reveal what metastatic breast cancer looks like to other cells, family, friends, others with MBC, even an oncologist.

Seeing MBC from these perspectives and listening to what MBC said to me, I found new truths about my diagnosis. I am deeply grateful to Wallace Stevens for his original poem and to LBBC for giving me the opportunity to publish my poem.

I encourage you to read the poem, then read my narrative explanation of “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Metastatic Breast Cancer.” Perhaps, then, you will go back and reread the poem, finding new meaning.

I also encourage you to share your metaphor about your breast cancer experience, trusting that it will hold your truth.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Metastatic Breast Cancer

I. An occupied country,
borders ragged after war.

II. A patched and painted ceiling
repair, starting to leak again,

III. A sealed but never sent
love letter.

IV. A teenager’s messy bedroom
floor, covered with candy wrappers,
dirty t-shirts, paint brushes,
and half-read books.

V. An avenue of unfixed potholes.
Shambles of echoes.

VI. Two open
cupped hands.
To be filled

VII. Rough, calloused fingers
rubbing a child’s small smooth

VIII. A white square Post-It Note
folded into an origami heart.

IX. An empty hammock,
waiting for a breeze.

X. A Spot-the-Difference game
with only 19 of 25 clues found.

XI. A perfectly fitting, beautiful black and white
taffeta dress with deep side pockets

XII. A mourning dove’s sad song
sounding its goodbye–
or is it hello?—
through its skin

XIII. 5:00 am: bird scuttle outside.
outside a bedroom window.
5:33 am: silence, gratitude, dawn.

Read the narrative of “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Metastatic Breast Cancer” here.
Photo credit: John Flak @jflakphoto


LBBC's new Guest Blogger program supports the voices and perspectives of bloggers from the broader breast cancer community. Is there a blog you follow and want to recommend to us? Let us know by contacting Adriana Lecuona at


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