One October clinic afternoon, I met [M.sup.me] D, an impeccably dressed woman in her seventies with a heavy French accent. I learned that roughly nine months earlier, she had noticed a new dimpling within a longstanding area of thickening in her right breast. She told me that years ago, a seat belt had saved her life but damaged her breast tissue, and a number of physicians and mammograms over the years had never raised any concerns. With the new dimpling, she had felt her breast becoming firmer and inexorably more deformed. Then a thin red line in the skin had become thickened and started oozing malodourously, triggering low-grade nausea that she couldn't shake. She finally went to the doctor who quickly surmised the problem and ordered a confirmatory mammogram and biopsy. A bone scan found the metastases that accounted for the discomfort in her upper back and left hip, which had led her to use a cane.
When I walked into the clinic room that afternoon, I had not been expecting to find such an elegantly dressed, superbly coiffed and glamorously smiling woman. [M.sup.me] D was radiant in her purples, blacks and golds, shimmering against the dreary backdrop of the hospital-beige examination room. Her jewellery came as close to sparkling as possible under the dismal fluorescent lighting. Throughout our conversation she dropped hints of an interesting life spent travelling the world, perhaps sharing more with me than she might have with others because we were able to converse in her native language.
I wondered how she had ended up in a remote, half-abandoned fishing village in rural Nova Scotia, a town I had driven through many times to admire the handsome yet increasingly dilapidated grand homes facing the water. As far as I could glean, she lived there alone, without a partner or close friends. I could easily imagine sea captains once casting covetous eyes on her as she strolled through the single main street on her way to the general store for supplies. There was no doubt that in her day, she would have stirred interest wherever she went.
Her breast was stretched tight by disease, with a gaping wound oozing the creamy yellow-green slime of a cancerous...