The Phone Call
Sometimes life takes a radical turn. Sometimes you see it coming. Sometimes you don’t.
Last year, in February, I went for a routine mammogram. Then I went about my business. I attended a women’s retreat. I posted to my blog. I hardly gave it another thought.
I had no reason for concern. A mammogram was a routine part of my annual health care. It had been since my 20s. I hadn’t felt a lump or anything out of the ordinary in my monthly self-exams and I wasn’t unusually anxious about the results.
Then I got the phone call. I needed to come back to the women’s health center for more pictures, then for a biopsy. Less than two weeks and three tests later the results were confirmed: Breast Cancer.
The Learning Curve
I spent the next three weeks reading, praying, asking questions and keeping appointments. Besides learning about my cancer there was little time to do anything but eat and sleep. When what I learned began to ache in my chest and feel like paralysis, I slept. I slept a lot during those weeks decisions were made and I moved toward treatment.
After an MRI, genetic testing and appointments with several surgeons, I checked into the hospital for a double mastectomy. By the grace of God, my margins were clean. My sentinel nodes were clear. Thankfully my breast cancer was caught early. Another couple of weeks and my drains were removed. I was on the road to recovery.
As I have learned over the past year, my story is not unique. It happens again and again all around us. Sometimes we hear about it, sometimes we don’t. Some people are comfortable sharing and some people aren’t or don’t know how to. I learned about others who were recently diagnosed: another woman in my Bible Study group, someone two streets over in my neighborhood, a friend from church. I learned the stories of survivors: my cousin, a neighbor from Texas, a neighbor from Virginia, women at church, the mothers and sisters, daughters and friends of those who offered care and concern and wonderful meals that kept me well nourished as I recovered from surgery. And I have been reminded of the stories of those who, like my mother, haven’t survived and still are well remembered.
Reflections in Cast-Iron
I’ve been one of the quiet ones. I haven’t talked much about my cancer. I’m not one to dress in pink or wear the ribbon. But today, one year later, I want to share a recipe that in some way speaks to this milestone in my walk with cancer.
I clipped this recipe for Cast-Iron Salsa from Southern Living magazine last year. It starts with the deep pink of plum tomatoes. Toss in pungent garlic and white onion along with a fiery jalapeno. Together they are seared and sweetened in my cast iron skillet, the big one that always sits on my stovetop reminding me of where I come from and those who have walked before me.
I have little to add to the recipe. I scarcely deviate from the steps as written. I slice through the tomatoes, tear up as I confront the onion, wince at the scent of the split jalapeno roasting on the hot bed of the skillet.
Once the vegetables begin to char, they are roughly chopped in a food processor. Then they are salted to bring out their character, brightened with a zing of lime juice and garnished with the chopped leaves of fresh cilantro.
Tempered by hot iron this salsa has a rich depth of smoky-sweet undertones. Serve it with chips or savor as a relish with eggs, meat or fresh roasted vegetables.
3 plum tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 jalapeno pepper, halved
1 medium white onion, cut into 16 wedges
1½ Tablespoons fresh lime juice
¾ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot (approximately 5 minutes.) Place the tomato halves in the skillet, cut side down, spacing them evenly. Add the garlic cloves and jalapeno pepper. Cook, turning the vegetables occasionally, until soft and slightly charred, about 6 minutes.
Transfer the tomatoes and jalapeno to the bowl of a food processor. Peel the garlic cloves and add them to the bowl.
Place the onion wedges in the hot skillet and repeat. Cook the onions, turning occasionally, until soft and slightly charred. Add the cooked onions to the bowl of the food processor.
Process the vegetables briefly, 30-45 seconds or until they reach the desired consistency. Add the fresh lime juice and salt. Pulse to combine.
Allow the mixture to rest for 10-15 minutes to cool completely. Stir in the chopped cilantro.
Transfer to a pretty bowl and serve.