by  Kari Moroz

Dear Nurse,
I’m being completely honest, I don’t remember your name or even what you looked like, or how long you spoke. You see, I was only 13 years old and preoccupied with my budding social life, the cute boy who had a locker next to mine, and all my pre-teen body insecurities.
Our junior high girls’ health class was summoned to the auditorium one day for a guest speaker. All I can really remember thinking is that if you spoke long enough, I wouldn’t have to take the quiz in geometry class. My best friend and I chose a seat in the back and shared a stick of gum. We giggled and joked until the lights dimmed, indicating that we should be quiet. We somewhat complied as the principal asked us to honor our guest. We half –heartedly clapped and whispered among ourselves, as if that was somehow more respectful when you walked on stage.
You were there to deliver a message on women’s health. When you talked about periods, a thick tension filled the room. None of us wanted to talk about periods. Some of us didn’t even have our periods yet! You continued on even though it was evident that we were all uncomfortable. My friends started to talk quietly, making plans for the football game. I joined in until I heard you mention breast cancer.
I shushed my friends. My grandmother had breast cancer. I didn’t know anything about it, really except that chemo made her extremely sick. You told us we should get into the habit of doing a breast self-exam in the shower, which of course, threw the juvenile crowd into fits of laughter and groping themselves over their shirts. I focused and leaned in so I could hear clearly.
You passed around a silicone breast form. Each girl took a turn feeling for lumps that indicated disease. Reactions varied, form the red-faced girl who touched it as little as possible to the class clown who stuck it in her bra and danced around seductively. You patiently kept talking over the chaos. I’m sure you felt like you were talking to a room full of toddlers. Was anyone listening?
When the silicone breast came to me, I was curious. I held it, pressed my fingers into it to feel for the lumps when I heard you say, “Who has it? Can you raise your hand?” I lifted my hand timidly. “Feel the lump within the lump, do you feel that one? See if you can poke it enough to feel the piece that feels like gravel.” I nodded. “ Breast cancer can feel like a tiny, hard rock but you have to poke around for it. Remember that.”
I did remember that. Sixteen years later, when I discovered a lump in my right breast. I knew to prod a little deeper to feel the gravel, exactly what you told me to expect.
So, Nurse, when you continued to speak to our health class full of rude, loud, socially awkward, prepubescent girls, I’m sure you left hoping someone heard something or anything that you had said. I heard you and your warning saved my life. Thank you.
Kari Moroz is the author of “Stage III Mommy: Beating Breast Cancer One Baby Step at a Time.” She is a 9-year breast cancer survivor and lives in Oklahoma City, OK with her husband and two lovely daughters.