CancerLand in the First Person
Words and digital pictures by Alysa Cummings
Last Modified: June 23, 2006
Where's that, you may ask...
It's the oncologist's waiting room. It's a blue barcalounger in the chemo lounge behind a closed door at the end of a long hallway. It's a shop in the mall where you can try on wigs before your hair falls out. It's marching down the Philadelphia Art Museum steps on Mother's Day, wearing a pink tee shirt. It's sitting on the couch watching the evening news and hearing the reporter's dramatic promo, " stay tuned for the latest weapon in the battle against cancer ." It's deep breathing in a small booth until the radiologist looks at the films and gives you the thumbs up to get dressed and go home. It's a shelf full of books in the health section of Borders, all with cancer in the title. It's ringing a shiny brass bell to the sound of applause after your last radiation treatment. It's a support group meeting where survivors laugh about cancer sniffing dogs. It's your life, changed forever now that you've heard the words, "you have cancer." It's where you are. Right here. Right now.
It can be the place where you go to get cancer treatment: a hospital or doctor's office. But it can also be a state of mind, 'acting as if' because that positive, perky survivor routine feels altogether too false and phony to ever work. It can be learning to live one day at a time as you recover from the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation protocols the doctors have prescribed for you.
Yes, CancerLand is the strangest place you'll ever visit and we are the cancer survivors trying to make sense of it all. Like any foreign land, CancerLand has its own crazy lingo and lots of freaky rituals that all cancer patients learn about as they bump into walls and find their way around. Maybe the poet Sylvia Plath was actually describing CancerLand when she wrote in "Tulips": (it's) "a country far away as health."
CancerLand. It's where cancer survivors are - physically, emotionally, spiritually - after diagnosis, after treatment, on our way to recovery, slowly making sense of our "new normal." Which leads us right to CancerLand in the First Person.
It's a poem that came to me, in a rush, as I thought about CancerLand, which has been "home" for me since 1998 when I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The lines took shape as first person verbs. As a cancer patient, so much was done to me. While cancer by its very nature describes cell growth that is out of control, many of us who travel in CancerLand search for ways to regain some power and exert some control. The poem is also filled with my reactions to my cancer treatment.
But the poem describes my journey through CancerLand. What about yours? Through the magic of online form technology, we are pleased to present the latest in a series of Oncolink fill-in-the-blanks poetry forms. Survivors are cordially invited to read my version of the poem and think about their own experiences in CancerLand. Then just fill in the blanks, click on the submit button and watch your words come together into an instant poem describing your own journey through CancerLand.
Just remember, please, to take some time to smell the flowers along the way.