The Cancer Chronicles

Stage One

She couldn’t be sure as she held her arm above her head
Like the pamphlet said she should
To check her breasts for any suspicious signs.
She didn’t expect to find anything of that kind
Because it wasn’t in her genes.
She’d read somewhere that Japanese women
Had less incidence of the disease
And she was pleased she had less chance of getting it.
She let herself imagine she was free.
And believed her lie to herself,
As she tried to forget the slight swelling
Beside her right nipple.
It didn’t hurt. It didn’t even show.
It was as though she had dreamed it
And so it seemed reasonable to hide
From the meaning of that lump,
Or was it a bump?
She procrastinated for hours
Over whether or not it was one or the other,
Only to discover it was a mass,
Although she preferred the other terms of the past
For they were more descriptive,
“poetic” in fact. She could “feel” them.
In time, she grew bored with her musing
And denial restored, she simply ignored the problem
Until one day, as she idly felt in “that” place,
The bump or lump or the mysterious mass was gone
And not wanting to give it power, she left her fear behind,
Until four years later
Perhaps sensing a weakening of defenses,
It had attacked her.
It was more defined this time and harder to the touch,
Visible, but not too much
And impossible to deny,
Although she tried.
She made the decision to hide from herself
The only evidence of the lie of good health
With vitamins and meditation, color therapy,
Prayers to the Virgin Mary
And once in a while, invocations to ancient gods
Who might still inhabit the earth,
But the odds had been against her from birth
And she knew she would die of it,
But she would not give in to it.
She would.

Stage Two

She knew that she should see a doctor,
But she made excuses to herself
For avoiding anything to do with “matters of health.”
She preferred a more stealthy method
For getting herself an appointment with certain death.
She was traveling at the speed of light,
Although it took her years
To reach her final destination
And once there, she found she wasn’t anywhere in particular.
She was alone on the prairie where she’d been born
To a very young mother
When the howling wind enveloped her in bony arms
And whispered, “what took you so long?”
All that was left of the house
Where she’d made her entrance into existence
Were a few faded bricks.
You played a trick on me she said aloud,
Although no sound issued from her mouth,
Then as if she’d said the magic word,
She stood before the full length mirror in her bathroom
And dared herself to look again
At the swelling that was visible now
Where the tumor had settled beside her breast
Like a relative who’d fallen on hard times.
She thought she’d been too kind,
But it was way too late to change her mind,
So she decided to carry on.
I’ll feed, clothe and house you,
But I will not allow you destroy me, she cried
When she was beside herself,
When her fear was so great
She’d feel like taking her own life
Before the other did.
She bought a special knife.
In some misguided hara kiri fantasy,
She’d imagine plunging it into her stomach
As she kneeled on the tatami mat,
Where her cat, Boo-boo, sat looking up at her
As if to say, “what gives?”
Oh, dear, what would she do about him.
She couldn’t just leave him, could she?
He wasn’t even two years old.
She’d rescued him from the animal shelter.
and had promised to care for him, hadn’t she?
She couldn’t she be that cruel.
She tried to tell herself he would survive.
She’d find a good home
Where he could sleep beside his new mistress,
Unless, unless…
Soon, she put the knife away in the utensil tray
And left the mat for him to play upon
When he wasn’t using it for scratching to sharpen his claws.
She let the disease proceed at its own pace.
She gave it space until Boo-boo fell ill,
Then she thought maybe it was God’s will
When he died of feline leukemia
And marveled at how deliverance had eluded her.
Now she found the will to kill herself was gone,
And she would have to soldier on alone,
But at least she wasn’t dead, she thought
As long as she could thrive on pain,
She would remain among the living,
Giving no sign of her struggle.
She resolved to double, even triple her efforts
To cure herself without the questionable help
Of chemo, radiation, tamoxofen
And experimentation of all kinds.
She decided it was still worth being alive,
But that was before the skin tore
Where the tumor adhered to the wall of her chest
As she scrubbed herself in the shower.
This time she thought she really ought to see a doctor
As a trickle of blood ran down her chest,
But she calmed herself
And by the time she finished showering,
The bleeding had stopped.
After that, she felt free and healed
And no longer in need of any kind of shield
Between her breast and the rest of her body.
Two weeks of bliss passed,
Then she noticed a dark spot on her nipple
That got larger and larger,
Until it turned into a scab and peeled off.
Again, she found the courage to ignore the evidence
Of her decay and oddly unafraid,
She let her inner demon loose to roam freely about her body.
To put it plainly, it was strangely exciting
To anticipate the state she’d find herself in on waking each day.
She never knew what to expect from her furtive trysts with death
And much to her amazement,
She realized that had made her husk of a life worth living.

Stage Three

Well what do you know.
She was still alive,
Even though she’d decided she’d die in December.
Now it was February
And she was very anxious instead of relieved
That she had deceived herself
Into believing she’d never be seeing a new year again.
She hadn’t made any plans.
She had to admit that she didn’t know when anymore,
But she knew how it would end.
Or did she?

Stage Four

She couldn’t even drink from a glass.
She sipped through a straw
When she had the strength
To draw the liquid up to the top
And suck at it drop by tortured drop.
The rest of the time, she was just thirsty
And cold to her own touch,
That is when she cared to feel any part of her body.
She consoled herself with thoughts of imminent doom,
Yet she lingered as sometimes the dying must
To further their endless torment
As if it weren’t enough that they knew all too well
life was limited and unjust.
Mere luck had kept her going,
Until it didn’t anymore.
Now at death’s wide open door,
She stepped across the threshold
To behold the same old, same old
Where she still lay upon the hospital bed
Among the detritus of what her existence had become,
Her thoughts clattering around in her head like marbles,
Their sound echoing down the long road of suffering
She must have chosen,
Although she couldn’t remember doing so.
The marbles’ refrain, “let go, let go,”
Increased as more pain radiated from her body, eased,
Then came back as if released
To attack her again and again
When in one last spasm
Her cataclysm ceased.

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