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English Professor Chronicles Mother’s Bout with Breast Cancer in Published Article
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Erin Pushman

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Limestone College English Professor Erin Pushman has published a riveting nonfiction article that chronicles her mother's battle with the disease.

The article, entitled "Revolving Glass," appears in the Fall 2011 edition of Segue, an online literary journal produced by Miami University (Ohio), and can be found at www.mid.muohio.edu/segue .

"I'm not sure how many other women think of their breasts as dangerous," writes Pushman. "The American Cancer society estimates that in 2011, there will be 288,130 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the United States alone. Given this statistic, I know I am not the only one afraid."

With vivid imagery, Pushman deftly-and nearly literally-takes the reader along with her and her mother through the ups and downs of the battle, opening with a hospital trip for an MRI screening of her mother's chest and lungs. " ‘It's probably just a fire drill,' my mother says," writes Pushman. "Fire drill is the term my mother has given to cancer scares. I've lost count of how many fire drills she had since going into remission in 1996; this is not a number I want to track."

An underlying message of the importance of early breast examinations is woven throughout the piece. "When my mother's cancer came, it snuck up on her, burying itself hushed and gentle in the tissue of her right breast. Thin for most of her life, she had begun to gain weight. Maybe that was why she didn't notice the lump right away. She shied away from the lump, from the whole idea of it, and did not see a doctor for nearly a year. It is difficult for me to understand this, how she could have felt it and let it go, how she could not have realized that, in cancer, every day matters."

Six days after being diagnosed with breast cancer at thirty-eight, Pushman's mother had a radical mastectomy and began a journey that included chemotherapy, the return of cancer, a bone marrow transplant, experimental treatment, and remission. Through it all, she is seen trying to shelter her children-Erin and her brother Adam-as best she can from the harsh realities one must face when engaged in battle with cancer while at the same time providing encouragement for strength. While describing the bone marrow transplant her mother endured, Pushman writes, "Mom could not move around much; she leaned back in the blue recliner, breathing evenly, talking to us from beneath the tubes. Adam leaned over Mom. He seemed not exactly sure where to put his hands, but he managed to hug her anyway. ‘I'll be okay,' Mom said. ‘Be positive.'

Now fifty-nine, Pushman's mother is tumor free. In fact, writes Pushman, "she's been in remission for so long the doctors don't even say ‘remission' anymore."

While she is a cancer survivor, Pushman's mother is also an advocate for breast self-examinations. When Pushman was fourteen, she was given by her mother a plastic card to hand in the show; a card entitled "How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam." Pushman writes, "I followed the card's instruction and tried not to feel embarrassed. Now, I see the irony: how my mother tried to teach me to protect myself from the disease, even when she had not protected herself.

"I am thirty-two, six years younger than my mother was at her initial diagnosis. Given the advanced stage, the cancer must have been inside her body for years. How old was she when its sells began to grow? Thirty-four? Thirty-three? Younger? I am careful. I do breast self-exams. Once a month, I stand in the shower, curve one arm behind my head and press the fingers of my other hand into my breast tissue.