Breast Cancer Poems

Here are a few of my poems…

The first one is a villanelle — and incidentally the very first poem I ever got published in a literary magazine — the now defunct “Formalist.”

I don’t ALWAYS write in form, in fact, most of the time I don’t, but I really enjoy the challenge of making it work…

In fact, it was the process of shaping the words to my will that was a good part of the therapeutic effect of writing poetry during that scary time.

Getting sick is very disempowering, and being able to take that experience and shape it into something beautiful, into something I want to turn it into, helped me reclaim my power over what was happening to me. And, well, it had a dramatic effect on my life in many ways.

Chemoceremony

I go to war, a needle in my vein
for chemo drugs to find and kill the cells
out to destroy me. I won’t let them gain

an inch. Twice monthly, I show up and feign
bravado as I lie, eyes closed, the smells
of war around me, needle in my vein.

I clear my chemo days of all that’s inane.
Basking in Wagner’s operas quells
my impulse to give up, let cancer gain

on me. Singing Valkyres keep me sane,
remind me I have power to defeat hell’s
cells – those needles won’t have been in vain.

Warm showers later wash away the pain
with scents of lilacs and gardenia bath gels,
breakfast on my balcony helps me regain

strength as I breathe freely after the morning rain;
croissants, hot Mocha Java, all that tells
me why I fight and sacrifice my vein
to kill the cancer: There’s too much to gain.

.
***
.
And here is another poem, the first one I ever wrote. Of course, I have improved it over time, but the essence is still the same. It really tells the story…

.

I’m Here Now

Metathraxate, Cyclophosphamate,
and the anti-emetic Ondansetron –
every first and second Thursday
they drip into my vein as I lie
in a Barcalounger, feet up,
reading New Yorker cartoons
and Reader’s Digest’s Campus Comedy.
I liked the Barcalounger so much
I bought one.

*

How are you feeling? Everybody asks,
but they don’t want to know.
They want me to say I’m okay
but I don’t, so they stop.

*

The scalpel cutting into my breast
sliced it like roast chicken,
taking out the offending portion
with a margin of error.

When the nurses talked about it,
they called it CA, like California.
Never cancer.
Did they do that for my sake
or theirs?

*

Seventy percent five-year survival rate
means five years after the diagnosis,
thirty percent are dead.

*

Then I tell myself it doesn’t matter
for today. I could be crushed
by a falling airplane
on my evening walk tomorrow.
I might live three months,
or three years, or thirty,
and there are two hot cups of coffee
on my breakfast table.

.
***

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Thanks so much.

Elisabeth

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