Countless poetry books fill the mantel over the fireplace in my living room. Some of the books stand upright; some stack up sideways, titles facing out, to save precious inches of space. Others spill over into colorful woven baskets set on the floor for that very purpose. My pink ribbon poetry collection started shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis in the fall of 1998 and has been growing ever since. Bookmarks and folded page corners mark my favorites, mark the stanzas I revisit regularly to lighten a mood that for any number of reasons may suddenly have turned sour.
I treasure these books. A recent first time visitor to my home, drawn immediately to the pink ribbon poetry shelf, this place of honor in my living room that celebrates survivorship, spoke the obvious aloud, "Good grief. It's an altar, isn't it?"
Maybe so. But why not call it "Poetry Therapy? " I do. And, yes, I confess this ritual of reading (and rereading) poems by fellow breast cancer survivors comforts me, reminds me that I am far from alone in my breast cancer journey. Somehow my reactions to a cancer diagnosis make much more sense once I acknowledge that other ladies have experienced many of the same things. My working theory is that poets wordsmith their way right through trauma. Once they get to the other side of crisis, they reach out to an audience. What they ultimately share through their art is the sweet gift of feelings validated.
Reading "cancer poetry" or writing it: the experience never fails to lift my spirits and recharge my batteries. As a "prescription," I recommend it highly! Over four years' time, this guilty pleasure, seeking out fellow survivors in print and reading their poetry continues to warm my heart and soothe my soul, moving me closer, day by day, to my own recovery.
What a thrill to have this opportunity to share survivor poetry with all of you, through both the kindness of OncoLink and the phenomenal long distance cooperation of the poets themselves. The online anthology is organized in four sections that suggest the flow of the cancer experience: from diagnosis, through treatment, to recuperation and ultimately to recovery.
May they comfort each of you no matter where you might be on your own journey.