Written on the Body, #26, October 6, 2020 — Another Poem

I’m writing this soon after the previous post, but I want to share a wonderful reason to be thankful this (Canadian) Thanksgiving. I saw my oncologist this morning, and he is very pleased with the progress I am making with my new drug; I get another round this Thursday. He showed me a print-out of my recent CT scan, and the cancer cells in the liver continue to shrink significantly in size, with no further spread. He has also stopped, temporarily, a secondary drug (which I took as pills) that was causing some difficult side-effects, as the IV drug is the most helpful and he wants me to get the benefits of the chemo without weakening my system too much. The nurses today said I look very well, with “a spring in my step.”

In 2019, in the first devastating weeks after diagnosis, I wrote a series of poems that expressed my feelings and helped me deal with this new and scary situation. It was a surprise to me that poems which began in despair tended to end on a note of hope and love. One of these was in the voice of the tumour itself, telling me I had strength to “hit (it) out of the ballpark”! The baseball metaphor goes with the book I published in 2019, “The Day I Saw Willie Mays and Other Poems,” which includes this sequence of poems among many others. (Thanks to Lil Blume for her essential help with editing and publishing the book). I want to share this poem here/now, to celebrate my medical progress and express my gratitude for it (way beyond what I expected) and also my gratitude to all my family and friends who have been wishing me well — and to the doctors, nurses, and technicians who do the hard work and still find time to give me encouragement and support. Three cheers for the Canadian health care system, Princess Margaret Hospital, and my doctor. Nice to have something to cheer about in this chaotic, confusing, and (for many) catastrophic year.

Tumour, March 2019

I lodged in your throat

(esophagus, to be precise)

the place where you swallow food, make love,

close to where you speak,

indigestible

but insidious, too small to cough up.

I lurked there, biding my time,

growing, cell by cell by cell,

burning your heart with my secret.

Now you have found me,

a bad dream come true

but you are stronger now,

surrounded and filled with love

and powerful words.

I am exposed, open to treatment,

to limitation. Remember your great-grandmother’s saying:

“We’ll fight it through!”

Don’t choke!

Find the sweet spot

Give it all you’ve got

Hit me out of the ballpark

Come home safe to your life.

Ellen S. Jaffe. Published in The Day I Saw Willie Mays, and Other Poems.  Pinking Shears Publications, 2019. ***

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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