Neither dead nor alive,
In three months,
The box opens.
Tested, probed, scanned,
She learns the cancer has recurred,
In which case she is dead.
Or it has not returned,
In which case she is–not alive.
Boxed in once more,
Neither dead nor alive,
She again awaits the allotted period
Until the box is opened,
we drop our holiday mood
like a heavy sweater in the heat
when that call sends us reeling
as leukemia sucks us
into its bell jar, rings
our ears, jangles
We can’t lower that volume
but distraction is at hand–
tickets to Porgy and Bess—
though I forget it begins
with a knife
Here’s what they should have told you: “We found cancer in your lymph nodes, your liver, your lungs and your brain. It explains your weight loss, your difficulty breathing and your loss of appetite. This wasn’t just your depression, like you thought. It started in your lungs, and now it’s everywhere. This cancer has been growing for quite some time. You cannot, even with the strongest medications and the longest surgeries,
I need to see Justin before my workday commences. I’m a social worker at the outpatient cancer center where Justin has been treated for an aggressive colon cancer.
Seeing him today means visiting him in the hospital, up the road from the center.
It’s almost surreal.
When I first met Justin, nearly two years ago, he looked every bit the linebacker–well over six feet tall, with a girth
Meg Lindsay ~
After 10 days in a hospital
you regain the ability
to walk albeit with a cane so I put the commode
out in the hall as you are laughing a bit more,
the gleam back, but the chemo starts
and the next morning again pain
in your ribs and sternum
and now it burns
in your chest and again you
Krithika Kavanoor ~
When I first met Ms. Ruiz, I was barely three months into my first year as a family-medicine resident. I was working harder than I’d ever worked before, and continually facing new challenges. I knew that I was learning, and so I persevered, but opportunities for self-doubt were abundant.
Maybe that was why Ms. Ruiz made such a big impression on me.
A middle-aged woman with a small
Allie Gips ~
In broken English, against the backdrop of the emergency department’s chaos and clatter, Mr. Simon relayed his story: unintentional weight loss, gradually yellowing skin, weeks of constipation. He punctuated his list of devastating symptoms with laughter–exaggerated but genuine guffaws.
Over the next few days, as the medical student responsible for his care, I was also responsible for handing him piece after piece of bad news. An obstructing gallstone in
During my third year of medical school, I completed a clinical rotation in surgery. I was certain that it would be horrible. I envisioned myself in the OR, getting lightheaded, passing out onto the sterile field and being yelled at by my attending physician. I worried that the medical knowledge I’d worked so hard to learn would be neglected in favor of memorizing the steps of surgical procedures. My parents, who
“Seriously?” began Amy’s text, which popped up on my iPhone one blustery November morning.
“How do you know?” she went on. “Why don’t I feel him with me?”
I had no idea how to answer.
Amy and I had met on Facebook a few months earlier, introduced by a mutual friend. Amy had recently lost her teenage son, AJ, to heart disease. “She needs to talk with someone
Jacqueline Dooley ~
I was unprepared
for the feel of your hair pulling free
with every brushstroke.
I wasn’t up to autumn
from the side of your hospital bed.
It seemed too much
for the universe to ask.
But, like you, I was choiceless
as I drove through November streets
the colors, drained and faded,
like your face when the chemo went
Ryan Nesbit ~
From second through fifth grade, I mastered the art of being sick. I got out of school, soccer practice and piano lessons so that I could be the child I wanted to be–not sick, but loved, cared for.
Here was my recipe:
1. Wake up.
2. Feel anxious about the day to come (this was natural).
3. Let the anxiety morph into a sickly pallor.
Lynn Lazos ~
Chemotherapy and radiation are not pleasant experiences, but knowing how to handle them can make your life a whole lot easier.
I had my first mammogram at age thirty-five, and for the next thirty-five years I had mammograms regularly. On my way, I’d pass the entrance to the Thomas Johns Cancer Hospital, outside of Richmond, VA, never thinking that I’d one day cross that threshold myself.