Bosom Pals: poets tackle breast cancer

A group of poets who have survived breast cancer have produced a collection based on their experiences

In 2014, Spiddal writer and poet Marie Cadden realised she knew many Galway women poets who had written of their breast cancer experiences.

“I remember saying to Lisa Frank, ‘there’s the makings of a book there.’”

Frank, co-director with John Walsh of Doire Press, said they immediately recognised the potential. They too were struck by how many women writers had breast cancer. They were delighted and honoured to work on the book with Marie. Two years and eight poets later, poet Moya Cannon launches Bosom Pals on September 14th at University Hospital Galway.

It has been a work of love and hope for Cadden, a breast cancer survivor who now has advanced lung cancer. She hopes the book will raise awareness among academics and researchers and most importantly put a human face on living with breast cancer.


“I would hope that the book will be an honest comfort to women going through breast checks or surgery,” she said.

“There is such honesty and strength in the poems,” Frank said.

"I never thought of my missing breast as a bosom pal, or a compassionate wobbler(!) but Marie Cadden's phrases and images in Breast Count hit the nail on the head and will resonate forever," breast cancer survivor Aine Lawlor wrote in her introduction.

Artist Ruth Cadden remembers being helpless when her mother was first diagnosed. This project now gives her an opportunity to honour her mother’s breast cancer journey and that of the poets.

“It was important to me that my artwork for this project would embrace the female form post-surgery and show how unbreakable and beautiful the female always is ... She transcends beyond symmetry and cavities.”

The project and launch means much to mother and daughter.

“She has caught the mood – the pathos, the bravery, the beauty, the humour,” Marie says of her daughter’s art. “I believe she was able to do so because of her emotional involvement with the subject matter.”

The poems and artwork, collectively known as Damage Limitation, are also scheduled for display at the Lambe Institute for Translational Research and HRB Clinical Research Facility at University Hospital Galway.

Prof Michael J Kerin, research programme director at Breast Cancer Research, Galway, who has written a foreword to Bosom Pals, praised the poets for their vivid work.

“Our lives are full of critical incidents: in cancer patients’ lives the dark day of diagnosis; the impact on femininity and motherhood; the children’s approach to Mum losing her hair or having the awful trauma of a breast amputation ... The women’s insights and the power of imagery in capturing these critical experiences are vividly displayed and are testimony to the gifts of the wordsmith and human conscience.”

Bosom Pals features work from survivors Marie Cadden, Robyn Rowland, Lorna Shaughnessy, Marion Cox, Susan Lindsay, Mary Hanlon, Mari Maxwell and Mary Madec. All contributors have donated their talents as has CL Print in Casla. All proceeds will benefit Breast Cancer Research, Galway.

By Marie Cadden

If men
were to lay their testicles
one at a time
on the metal plate
– as breasts are –
for a clamper to pancake,
dignity contorted to facilitate
maximum compression
while the squasher retreats
to the safety of remote control
and an extra squeeze for the x-ray –

if men were to feel the lonely panic,
the dread – that there's a maniac
behind the screen, that the machine
has lost the run of itself, that the precious
gland will burst and spew a tumour,
of being left two-dimensional forever –

if men were to know the nausea
at the moment of release,
the pitiful cradling
of the poor darling
before the next onslaught
from another angle, while
the trembling twin awaits its turn –

if men had breasts
they'd have found a better way.

The Clintons are in Ireland
By Mary Madec

I am in a hospital bed,
balancing drain and drip, as I raise my head
to see – above me – Hillary Rodham Clinton
presented to mná na hÉireann
and Finola Bruton decry
the neglect of fatherless boys.

The sway of the curtains in the breeze,
heat of the room,
nothing fully understood.
Van Gogh's sunflowers explode
on the opposite wall.

When my eyes open again,
my motherless baby boy
surveying tubes, distant, afraid
to cuddle up,
the ladder of my ribcage broken,
his pillow torn open.