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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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My Friend Sandy Has Ovarian Cancer Too

She’d moved west to Seattle; by phone
we compare treatments, numbers,
Hanging on, she says: we are survivors.

I flew to visit before we knew–
browsing in bookstores, eating pastries,
strolls by Lake Union. She brewed tea, I gave her
Lucille Clifton’s good times before I had to leave.

Her diagnosis came soon, mine
a year later. An uncommon cancer,
with no cure.
But doctors say they can manage it.

Chemotherapy, surgery. Infusions, pills.
Experimental drugs almost killed her–
in the hospital for twelve days,
I couldn’t reach her until the fifth.

I’ve tolerated treatments. So far. She has not.
Living day to day, thankful for walks, movies, books.
Discussing how to end it when all is too much.
We could stop eating, stop drinking.

At some point, we’ll know.
We’ll tell each other, try to visit
one last time.

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A retired educator, Laura Altshul tutors and serves on nonprofit boards focused on providing educational and arts experiences for children whose families don’t ordinarily have access to these opportunities. Her four books of poetry are Searching for the Northern LightsBodies Passing, Looking Out, and The Shearing. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications and won several prizes. She and her husband Victor Altshul co-lead the New Haven Chapter of the Connecticut Poetry Society and have given poetry readings throughout the state.



About the Poem

“The coincidence of both of us having the same diagnosis made us confidants throughout the process of treatment and brought us very close together. We talked a LOT, and sent gift packages and encouragement back and forth. Sandy knew I was writing about the experience and approved.”


4 thoughts on “My Friend Sandy Has Ovarian Cancer Too”

  1. I send prayers to both of you—and to Eileen Douglas who wrote a response to your stunning poem. Remain strong; hold onto optimism—and each other.

  2. I would like to offer a bit of hope to both of them. Two years ago when I was 75, I was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, something I knew was wrong with me for a year and a half; my pcp just said I was getting old. Then one night at home I had cramps as if I were 13 again. At the Emergency Room, I hemoraghed profusely and was diagnosed with cancer. My new oncologist diagnosed me with Stage IV peritoneal and ovarian cancer. If I refused treatment, which at my age I was ready to do, I would have been dead in 6 months. My family, friends, and doctor said they wished I would at least try chemo and surgery, the protocol suggested by my doctor. I agreed to try and my doctor said she would keep me as comfortable as possible, but if it was too much, she would keep me comfortable if I stopped all treatment. After 3 rounds of chemo then surgery, I am cancer free now, and my monthly labs are excellent. I am on lymparza which is 70% successful in keeping the cancer from coming back; considering that after chemo and surgery my chances were only 50/50, I feel optimistic and am almost back to my old self–or how my old self would have been at almost 77. I am still a little off balance and tire more easily than I used to, but I’m finishing my dissertation for a PhD. There is light at the end of the tunnel which I hope is not an oncoming train, even though I am scheduled for a CT scan in 3 days. I know it is likely that cancer will probably be the cause of my eventual death, but in the meantime, I am still in love with my husband, my daughter, and 3 grandkids, and I look forward to each and every day. I hope that may be the experience they have, too.

  3. Louis Verardo, MD, FAAFP

    Without an excess of words, you expressed an abundance of insight about the illness shared by the both of you.

    Thank you.

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