Car Battery — A Wildfire Story

April 16, 2024

Savonna and I walk downstairs and to the car. The car battery has been dead for two weeks because we’ve both been working and distracted. I wait for Sav to jump our red VW hatchback with the weird temporary battery thing she bought on Amazon Prime two days ago. I am clutching a folded sheet of loose-leaf paper with handwritten affirmations on it.

The operating room is full of skilled, experienced, practitioners.

As we pull into the hospital – a new one for me, my prior care and visits have been elsewhere – we see the valet. Savonna rolls up and turns off the car, removing the key. At that moment, both she and I realize the car will not restart because the battery is dead. She looks at me with panic. We are late.

I pick up my black leather overnight bag and calmly take two steps away from the car. It is overcast but not raining. I look at Savonna, smile genuinely, and turn to walk into the hospital’s automatic doors.

I wasn’t angry, but for the first time in my life I was selfish. I didn’t think about what she needed from me, only what I needed. And what I needed was to go inside and begin the registration process. Countless sheets of paper attached to a clipboard. The same questions I answered on the phone last night. The same questions I’ve written on every form for the last seven months. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. No allergies. Emergency contact: Spouse. 310.279.3099. Religious preference? None.

Savonna meets me in that first waiting room, we say nothing. I am calmer than I’ve ever been before. In my right hand, a pen. In my left, the affirmation paper, now a bit sweaty.

I will wake up easily and feel refreshed after surgery.

My team will remove all traces of cancer, leaving my body cancer free.

We go upstairs and fill out more paperwork. They show me to the pre-op area and introduce me to my nurse, Sandy. Sandy does not possess the ease I’ve grown accustomed to with nurses. Sandy feels nervous, like a small bird. She flits around the curtained area, a pen in hand, seemingly unsure what comes next.

Sandy tries to set up an IV. I can tell right away it’s not going to work. My arm stings and aches; my chest full of dread. Two, three times – no luck. I remind her I have a port and ask if she wants to use it. “I wouldn’t know where to begin with that,” she explains. Of course. Sandy gets another nurse to come over. Deborah sets up my IV in under 30 seconds. It is a painless affair. She tells Sandy to finish up, as it’s nearly time. They want me to take a pregnancy test. I assure them there is no way–no way–I am pregnant.

“I am in menopause.”

“I am gay.”

“I haven’t had sex with a man in 15 years.”

They are confused. I am stuck on principle. They let me sign a paper – a declaration. A waiver that in no uncertain terms claims that I am not: pregnant, and if I am pregnant, it is not their fault if something bad happens. I want to write a side note, The bad thing has already happened. I have cancer and the treatment made me infertile. Thanks for sparing me the urine test. xoxo D.

Dr. DaLio comes into the small curtained off area, and it is delightful to see a familiar face, even if it is of the man who is about to slice my chest open. He has me open my robe and starts marking my chest with what appears to be a purple sharpie. I realize he is outlining the contours of my current body, to help him place the expanders, make the right cuts. It feels like art. But also like a clothes tailor, a seamstress making a foreign bodice pattern, then assigning it to me.

Dr. DaLio steps back and gets lower so that he is eye level with my chest. He has me spread my arms wide and hold them there. He kneels in front of me, and I’m struck by the likeness to a crucifixion. My right arm is attached to the IV pump, and I am cautious not to pull it. Is this the payback for my sins? I cannot name them but feel a knowing somewhere deep that I deserve this. I was never good.

I am surrounded by a blanket of love and good intentions. All the good thoughts and words that have ever been felt or said about me, encircle me now.

Savonna snaps a photo for my parents. I smile, clutching my paper.

Another nurse comes in with a short almost buzz cut. She checks a few things, adjusts the IV, introduces herself as Jy and lets me know she’ll be inserting a catheter.

“What!? No one told me I’d need that!”

She smiles warmly and puts her capable, confident hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m very good at it. And you’ll be asleep – you won’t even know.”

As we enter the hallway and Jy pushes the gurney with some others, a nurse in a bouffant surgical cap meets us in the hallway.

“Hi! I’m here to hold your hand.”

She stands beside me on the left and takes my hands in hers. They are cool but not cold. She, like Jy, is infused with that steady intersection of professionalism and boundless love that is so comforting.

The OR is larger than I thought it would be, and much brighter. I mean, I guess of course it’s bright, they need to see what they are doing. But in Grey’s Anatomy, it always seems dim in there, like a nice restaurant or a late-night flight.

The anesthesiologist is behind my head, talking to me very calmly. There is something deeply unsettling about having the anesthesiologist outside of view. Like getting knocked out from behind. I have the urge to cut and run. Suddenly this all feels crazy. Surely, this can’t be happening.

The nurse is still holding my hand. I remind myself to do the breathing. Say the affirmations. I don’t have the paper anymore – they took it away. But I remember them perfectly and recite them in my mind.

My body heals easily and without complication.

I sleep deeply for the duration of my surgery.

My blood loss will be minimal.

The wisdom of the universe flows through my surgeon’s hands.

The anesthesiologist puts a mask on me and says, “This will relax you a little,” and before I can tell him it is relaxing me a lot, I realize that’s okay. That’s what they’re doing. I wish they would just tell you, “This is it. When you wake up, your breasts will have been amputated.”

I think of Jy, somewhere in this room. And this sweet, patient nurse still gently holding my left hand. She wasn’t kidding. I like to think maybe she’ll stay there for the duration. Scrubbed in for no other purpose. As the room fades to bubbles and the sounds soften and blend together, the affirmations keep scrolling in my mind.

My body is resilient.

My team is highly skilled.

My surgery is successful and free of complications.

Out front of the hospital, Savonna is getting a jump so she can finally move her car. The valet let her leave it, stalled out, in front of their stand, until I was safely in the OR. We don’t know it then, but this is the part of the story we laugh about for years to come. I like to think about it, the surgeon covering my chest in ChloraPrep and steadying the scalpel. Savonna, in the parking lot where it has started to drizzle, connecting the car battery to a stranger’s car, slipping in the driver’s side door, turning the key forward, once, twice, until the engine is flooded with power.


Dawn Amodeo • Managing Director, Hypothesis Group.Diagnosed at 34. IDC, Stage II, Triple Positive.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer and navigating treatment and survivorship, Dawn turned to writing, yoga, and meditation to process her experience. Life isn’t the same – her body isn’t the same – but she takes eacch day as it comes. She enjoys black coffee, long walks, Palm Springs, spin class, live music, vegan food, and books. Dawn is 39 and lives in Los Angeles with her incredible wife and their two dogs, along with an amazing support network. She uses affirmations regularly. • @brooklyndawn


Editor’s Note: This essay was previously published in the “Body” (2022) issue of WILDFIRE. This piece has been republished with permission from WILDFIRE Magazine, the “Queer in Cancerland” issue, published originally February 17, 2024. More information available at  wildfirecommunity.org    

WILDFIRE Magazine is the only magazine for young women survivors and fighters of breast cancer under 45 years old. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, WILDFIRE is a beautiful, story-based bi-monthly magazine published on different themes relevant to young women survivors, from stage 0 to stage IV. Beautiful and ad-free! Visit  wildfirecommunity.org for more info.

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