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A Breast Cancer Story in Poems

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2006. Treatment -- lumpectomy, chemo and radiation -- lasted for more than a year. During my illness I found poetry -- both reading and writing it -- was cathartic.
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I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2006, when my children were 4 and 6 years old. Treatment -- lumpectomy, chemo and radiation -- lasted for more than a year.

During my illness I found poetry -- both reading and writing it -- was cathartic. The cancer journey is a difficult one, as I am reminded nearly every day as a friend, or friend of a friend, or family member is diagnosed. My own journey included 16 chemo treatments, 33 radiation treatments, two surgeries, a year of Herceptin infusions and countless blood draws (but who's counting?). Still, I was overwhelmed with endless words of encouragement, warm hugs, hair jokes, cards, emails, calls, help with the kids, delicious meals and extraordinary care from my doctors, my family and my friends.

In 2008, wanting to share the healing power of poetry, another local poet Tammi Truax, who lost her husband to cancer, and I founded The Prickly Pear Poetry Project: Processing the Cancer Experience Through Poetry. We hold workshops and readings at oncology clinics, churches, etc. for anyone who has been touched by cancer. The workshop is not about critiquing the work; it is about providing a voice for emotions difficult to share in daily conversation. Each session is so incredibly moving.

Here is my story in poems. These and other poems are in my new collection, Sound Travels on Water, due out this month, published by Finishing Line Press.

Rogue Wave

Last week we stood on opposite coasts:
On the Florida side,
Waves ran at my feet
Snatching bits of sand
From underneath,
As the land-grabbing cancer
Cells inside me.
I wondered how long
I could stand before, unbalanced,
I'd float away, buoyant and hollow --
Empty as a jellyfish.

And you, a continent away:
I imagine your last thoughts --
Chicken for dinner, This awful cold --
Before -- trying to save your dog --
You were swept away
By the rough Pacific.

Back home I stand,
Sand still draining
Through my hourglass toes
And I wonder, Molly:
Was it a relief to be taken
Without notice?

Published in Survivor's Review.


My neighbor walks
for miles each night.
A mantra drives her, I imagine,
as my boy's chant did
the summer of my own illness:
"Push, Mommy, push,"
urging me to wind my sore feet
winch-like on a rented bike
to inch us home.
I couldn't stop;
couldn't leave us
miles from the end.

Published in The Mom Egg.

After the diagnosis,
I was stoic,
I spoke dispassionately
of biopsies,
accepted the sharp
tool plunged
into my breast
to decide my future.
I heard talk of surgery,
I prayed I wouldn't hear, "chemo,"
but the doctors confirmed it:
How I feared chemo, afraid
it would change me.
It did.
Something dissolved inside me.
Tears began a slow drip:
I cried at the news story
of a lost boy found in the woods;
at the kindness
of our babysitter
taking down the trash;
at the silent
press of my husband's
hand on mine;
at the surprising beauty
of a bright leaf falling
like the last strand of hair from my head.

Driving To Boston

Cancer is behind me.
Seated in the passenger seat
of a silver Honda a car-length back,
there is a young woman
wearing a woolen cap
despite the mild fall weather.

Slowed by rush hour traffic,
I study her in the rearview
mirror. She sits beside a man,
presumably her husband.
They don't talk and yet
I hear them worrying.

I keep them in my sights
at all times, even as traffic
begins to move into this city
I've come to know so well.
Somehow, it is very important
their car does not overtake me.

Sound Travels on Water is due out this month. I am donating $3 for each chapbook sold to a breast cancer awareness/research organization. Pre-sales helped raise more than $500, which I donated to the American Cancer Society as part of the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Exeter, N.H., on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012.