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

Close this search box.

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

Close this search box.

This Is How You Cope With Cancer

Bleach your hair,

get drunk on champagne,

pretend the left and right halves of your face are the exact same,

ignore and deny it, laugh loudly–too loudly,

                        m a n i a c a l l y.

Tell the people who love you to stop asking after you,

snort tears up your nose and then down your throat,

take extra moments in bathroom stalls,

let the cool hand dryer blow in your eyes

water the plants so often that the house smells of mildew,

whisper Live! to the plants, and

Congratulations! to pregnant women.

Get bold–or brash, shake the champagne bottle before uncorking it,

Don’t listen when you don’t care to,

possibly, tell patients, your middle name is now “condom”

when they have unsafe sex, and

                  I  l o v e  y o u

when they are dying of liver failure.

Walk around town in your pajamas,

the red ones with stripes and radishes on them,

look people in the eyes,

ask for more money,

read your poems aloud to poets

drop your bagel on the hospital bathroom floor

and eat it anyway.

Call for Entries

Pulse Writing Contest

"On Being Different"

Justine Parker currently works in the rural coastal town of Florence, OR, with PeaceHealth Medical Group. She graduated from Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed a family-medicine residency with Illinois Masonic Family Medicine and a maternal child health fellowship with PCC Community Wellness Center at West Suburban Medical Center. Her current practice is split between women’s health with surgical obstetrics and family medicine. When she is not in the clinic watching deer outside her office window, she can be found hiking sand
dunes or paddleboarding on one of the region’s many coastal rivers.

About the Poem

“When I was diagnosed with papillary cystadenocarcinoma of the parotid gland in my final year of residency, I experienced what it is like to be both a caregiver and a patient. I wrote this poem in between CT scans, specialist appointments, fellowship interviews and studying for my boards, during what felt like the bleakest Chicago winter ever. After a major biking accident and an incidental finding of a brain mass during this time, I had the same realization that many patients have during their health crises: Life is temporal and precious and worth living into deeply. It is from this place that I wrote the poem, as a type of instruction manual I would have liked to have had beforehand. I continue to laugh too loudly and, occasionally, to cry in public. I would like to thank my wife Lia for the ways she has celebrated and supported me.”


10 thoughts on “This Is How You Cope With Cancer”

  1. fabulous poem of living in the moment, coping with the diagnosis, and becoming very very real and true to yourself.

  2. Thank you for sharing deeply. I have a habit of being more authentic since being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And since my son was diagnosed with bone cancer. He was first and then me. Surprisingly, and against all statistics that I read feverishly, we are both still alive and, in spite of long range effects from chemo and irritating effects from exemestane, are both thriving. I have never felt “brave” or like this was a “battle.” But, I have done things I would have shied away from before. Like apply for a doctoral program, get gastric sleeve surgery, and move away from a town, job, and people that annoyed the shit out of me. Now a graduate medical education librarian, I support residents, fellows, and faculty in their research. By the way, the librarian that works with you, they’d like to be included as an author. Thank you for your service. You’ll help save the life of someone who is either grateful or pissed. I am one of the grateful ones. Hugs from six feet.

  3. I Love this poem – life is short, and unpredictable. Being a 2 time cancer survivor- I know the uncertainty and this year many have with COVID
    this made me laugh, it made me celebrate, and it made me say “Hell Yeah”

    thank you for writing and sharing this – and I wish you great fortune in blasting those cancer cells away.

  4. I loved this poem. It was an ode to living a bit unhinged–like keeping the mask on didn’t matter so much anymore. Maybe we should all live a little more like this. And doctor like this too. Thank you Justine!

  5. Eating a bagel off of the hospital floor.
    Telling a person in liver failure “ I love you”
    Shaking up a bottle of unopened champagne.
    Would be good to live life without cancer this way.
    Because we never know…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Poems

Popular Tags
Scroll to Top