Tradition & Innovation
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Beginning a Religious Response to Mastectomy

By Sylvia Rothschild

The diagnosis of breast cancer is one that all women dread, bringing with it a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions fear of pain, of death, of disfigurement; a sense of betrayal by one's own body; worries about femininity; about sexuality, about relationships; loss of control over one's own person.

To lose a breast is so much more than the loss of a body part; the breast is integral to our perceptions of ourselves as woman lover, mother, nurturer, life-giver. The breast is the symbol of our power and our strength. A liturgy which helps us to ground ourselves in an encounter with God at this time, and which also allows us to reclaim and transform our female strength so as to continue to live a life of quality and empowerment, is greatly needed.

A meditation before mastectomy

Hear the voice of a woman, the anguish of the daughter of Zion, sobbing and spreading out her hands, saying, 'Woe is me, for my soul faints.'

I am pained at thy very heart, I cannot be peaceful and destruction follows upon destruction.

I looked on the earth and behold it was waste and empty; at the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains and behold, they trembled, with all the hills moving to and fro.

I looked on, and behold, there was no one, and all the birds of the heavens had fled.

I looked on, and behold the fruitful place was a wilderness.

God, known to us as El Shaddai, Source of all power and strength, who enfolds and supports us, in whose image I am made, be with me at this time of terror and desolation which has fallen upon me so suddenly. Remember me and be mindful of me. I am fainting away. My sun has gone down while it is still day, I am confused and confounded. My heart moans within me, my eyes are a fountain of tears. Help me to see that my world still exists, my life is still to be lived, my self is not destroyed.

Now that I must begin a journey of damage and destruction, of pain and grief;

  • help me to keep faith with those who seek to cure me,
  • help me to trust the healing brought about through such an injury,
  • teach me to hold fast to the person I am and to let go of the fear and loneliness which threaten to overwhelm me.
  • Be with me, El Shaddai, You who know the meaning of my life,
  • give me strength and courage, trust and hope,
  • cover me in the shelter of your wings,
  • hold me to Your breast and comfort me.

Deliver me from my illness, I run to your sheltering presence, for you are my God, your spirit is good.

For Your own name, God, cause me to live most fully,

For your own righteousness bring my soul out from this trouble.

And in your great mercy cut me away from my adversaries, destroy all who afflict my soul, for I am Your servant?