The Princess and the Deadly Pea: A Hopeful Ending with a Lesson

Here’s the thing about breast cancer: it has infuriating self-possession. When a lump decides to make an appearance, it does so on its own timetable, at its own discretion. Never mind that its unsuspecting host has much better things to do, like starting graduate school, writing blog posts, going to work, or just plain living her life, thank you.

Illustration by Edmund Dulac

Two months ago, I am taking a shower when I discover a tiny pea—a nothing, really—living inside my body. I try to ignore it. Hmm. What’s this? Eh, probably nothing. No less than two weeks later (How’s that for good timing?), I mention it to my doctor in passing—in passing, mind you! One mammogram, one targeted sonogram, and one core biopsy, and many, many sleepless nights later, a humorless radiologist informs me I am harboring a malignant lesion. The cancer, or BC as I call it (we’ve grown quite intimate), has burrowed into the softest, most tender tissue of my being, as if into a mattress, fully intending to grow there throughout the winter; or until I die, whichever comes faster.

“Good luck with that,” the radiologist says.

From that dreadful day on, the cancer works to undermine my princess-like composure, and I try everything to keep from folding under the stress. On good days I am optimistic, a positive thinker, who endeavors to remain in the moment. I have embraced the lesson that shit happens, that things fall apart (Thank you, Pema Chödrön), and I’ve never, ever deigned to think I was immune. Still, the bad days prove to be an unequal contest, because A) cancer doesn’t care, and B) I have way, way too much to lose.

Illustration by Edmund Dulac

So what I want to say to you—yes, you BC—is this: I’ve grown rather fond of my breasts. I really have. And I’d like to reserve the option to swim topless in the South of France, or do a silly fan dance with a 34B matching set. (Not that it’s any of your damn business how I spend my free time.)

I am not your typical cancer risk: I do not carry “the gene;” I have never smoked, I practice yoga, I am an on-again-off-again vegetarian. I wonder, was it the bacon?

This is how the bargaining with BC goes on inside my head during the excruciating weeks that follow:

Listen here, BC, because I adore my husband, because I love our family, our friends, our cats, our little house in the country, I am willing to trade you one lump of my precious flesh for 30, no 40, more years of living.

[Cackling maniacally]
I will see your measly lump of flesh and raise you your entire right breast, plus prescribe you chemotherapy!


Take it or leave it, lady.

Sorry, BC, no deal. I’m calling your bluff.

With that, BC reveals its weaker hand in a pathology report that reads: Stage 1a, contained. Translation: Prognosis good.

Life to be continued…

Illustration by Edmund Dulac

The moral of my story, ladies? If you haven’t done so yet, please oh please take a moment to schedule your annual mammogram. It just may save your life.

To see more incredible illustrations by Edmund Dulac, visit

About Smallpeace

Michele Karas is a poet, essayist, and longstanding professional copywriter, who currently works for a top-five US book publisher. Her poems and prose have appeared in literary journals, including Tinderbox, THRUSH, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Narrative magazine, among others. Michele holds a BA in Journalism from San Diego State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from CUNY, The City College of New York. Find her on Twitter @small_peace.
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10 Responses to The Princess and the Deadly Pea: A Hopeful Ending with a Lesson

  1. Phyllis Geving says:

    I have walked that same journey with cancer, and yes it is so scarey, but you will get through this bump in the road, and go on to enjoy your beautiful life. Radiation was manageable for me, and was an excuse to sleep long hours! You are the bright ray of sunshine in your family’s life! I send you a hug and ask God to bless you every step of the way!
    Hugs…. Phyllis

  2. barbara karas says:

    Again my beautiful and talented daughter has used her talent for words toexpress her feelings about this awful new challenge in her life. Yes, you are strong, yes you are so loved, and yes you have so much life to live. So Bc be gone with you and be damned…..we choose life, love, laughter and lots of living.

  3. Janice says:

    This is beautifully said, just like the sayer! WE love you and we poo poo that BC– you such a strong woman, it cannot stop you!

  4. says:

    I love the fairy tale metaphor – it works well to convey the tale of your epic journey. I hope you assertively distribute this piece so it finds a wide audience.

    • Smallpeace says:

      I appreciate the encouragement, T, though I dread the fact that there are so many women out there who share a similar (and all too often more serious) story.

  5. Touch2Touch says:

    I am so sorry, Michelle. Sorriest for all the worry and anxiety and black shadows cast over everything during all the time of waiting. Stage 1a contained is an EXCELLENT prognosis, if you must have a situation requiring a prognosis.
    Will you emulate Lady Macbeth? Out, out damned pea! — er, spot.
    Or perhaps you’ll stick to Dulac’s enchanting princesses — casting powerful and beautiful spells, as you do in your blog, and undoubtedly in many other aspects of your life. When this is behind you, perhaps you will replicate his Scherezade (find it, if you don’t already know it) and captivate us all with your story.
    Good wishes, good luck, strong prayers.

    • Smallpeace says:

      Thanks T2T for the wishes, luck, and prayers. I embrace them all and know that they are helping me along. Spring—and my last radiation treatment—is coming!

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