Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Five Years Ago Today,

In the fifth week of chemo and radiation for my Stage IIb  Cervical Cancer, I landed ( for the second time in the week)  in the ER  at Gettysburg Hospital --- this time, with very blurred vision,  extreme potassium deficiency, and very serious dehydration.  All due to the side effects of the radiation; namely, non-stop diarrhea. I had “Chemo Brain” too, which kept me from wanting to eat anything, and also which prevented me from realizing I had to drink as much water as I needed to drink. I was scared to death that the blurred vision was permanent, and that I would never read again, drive again, or teach again.

After an overnight in the hospital and IV fluids, I went home. One of the blessings of my life is that we have an Infirmary in our big house, and I was put to bed there. I went out every day for the radiation, but that was about it. For the next nine weeks, I stayed there.  I was so weak that I couldn’t walk very far down the hall. My chemo brain was such that I couldn’t concentrate , even on a tv show.  My distorted thinking caused me to think many strange thoughts.  I also thought I was going to die.

Needless to say,  I got better. My blurred vision finally cleared up in May of that year. That aggressive treatment killed the cancer, and I am still cancer-free.  The five year survival rate for that type of cancer is 58%, so I really count myself blessed.

It took me more than a year to begin to write poems about this experience.  They are not “nice” poems.  Here are several:

   At the Gettysburg Cancer Center

Cozy club you don’t want to join.
Brigade which enlists you on the side
of the invaded
in a Civil War battle.

To sign up,
admit that you are bleeding,
or that you are dizzy,
or that you feel a lump.

The anteroom
welcomes and smells like coffee,
offers fruit and graham crackers.
Soon you won’t want to eat
any of them.

Door number one: Chemo-
Big easy chairs arranged
around a sunny room
with high ceilings
that looks like a hair salon
where the hair evaporates
from most heads.

Door number two: Radiation
more Star Trek than Cemetery Ridge.
The uniformed sailors leave you alone,
retreat behind leaden walls,
while the hammerhead cannon
grinds and rotates
around every side of you.

Feeling nothing
but fatigue,
you leave for another evening
of diarrhea.

Recurring depression
delusions, dehydration
accompany you home.

After six weeks
leave the clubhouse
and almost forget
what membership cost.
You wonder about the other veterans-
Are they
melting, wild cells galloping away with them?
Are they, like you, returning home,
 scarred, but breathing victory?


The sick woman floats on a narrow mattress
on a desert island,
in an ocean of grey floor, pale green walls.
The plane has crashed.
She’s washed up
stranded here,
cast  away into a wilderness
of dehydrated silence.
Dissociated .
Her blurred eyes cast about
for signs of health,
for signs of death.
But she’s a castaway,
shipwrecked by  broken bowels,
by waterstarved heart.

Companion Radio,
The franchised station
plays in the nursing home
where she lies, melting into the bed.
Plays in her fading ear:
Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine…
As you are once a whiner
Still I’ll cling to the old rugged cross…
Drugged across
I come to the garden alone…
The guard , a lone aide
Rock of Ages, cleft for me…
Crock of angels, left for me to entertain
When we’ve been there ten thousand years…
Towels and tears
Is what she hears.

The Meaning of Radiance

Still cooking the colon
years after the machine
delivered its killing light
to the hard purple carcinoma.

Cancered cervix
cancered liver
now friable,
readily crumbled, brittle,
easily reduced to powder
like styrofoam,
able to be fried in the sun,
on the stove,
in the mouth of radiation.

Waves in defenseless air
through the unsuspecting neighbor.

Light of sun distilled, forced
through tunnels into funnels
dancing in the sky at Fatima,
glowing the teeth of the smile of the
child in Hiroshima.

What radiance does to the mouth…
John Chrysostom ,golden radiant mouth,
no metal fillings bouncing beams off your teeth
to burn your tongue.

Sing it:
O Radiant Light O Sun Divine
 of God the Father’s Deathless Face
O Image of the Light Sublime
 that lights the heavenly dwelling place…


Author Amok said...

Anne, Your poem about the treatment center in Gettysburg spoke to me this morning. We visited Gettysburg this summer -- so much history there. That is a layer underneath your poem. I'm glad that you're writing about this experience and that you are well.

Anne Higgins said...

Thank you so much! Glad you were able to visit Gettysburg. I feel blessed to live so close to those hallowed grounds. And , yes, I am well.