After the news, it takes around twelve hours
for you to even remotely feel a little more like yourself
again. There may be benchmarks for these things
but you don’t know what they are.
What even is time, anyway?
Surviving is impossible. What do you do with this
body, with your mind, in light of this news?
Over the weeks that follow, there are letters and
phone calls, tests and appointments. Between
appointments, you remember how to breathe
again. You had barely been daring, a shallow intake
not quite heaving your belly as it should. When you do
remember, every gasp is a release, a feeling of life
pulling into you, and you know that you have to try
now, that living does not come naturally now.
Between appointments, there is always a levelling out
of ground, a brief let-up of volcanic activity. There is a rest
you never get too comfortable in because you know
it will only last a beat shorter than you expect it to.
As you wait for results and decisions, you slip into
normal routine again, reluctantly yet gratefully.
Three weeks after the news, daily reminders
to yourself become:
Don’t forget your lunch
Don’t forget to pick up bread
Don’t forget you have cancer
As if you would. But also, you do. You become
distracted by work tasks, by domestic life,
by shopping, by someone else’s news, by
plans to have fun. And then a voice in your
head reminds you, always, just in case you
get too comfortable: don’t forget
you have cancer.
You think dark thoughts. Terrible thoughts
about whether you will die and if there will be
time for you to prepare a Spotify playlist for
the wake. You hope you become a ghost so
you can see when and how people mourn for
you. You cling to the world, and the tiny
world that surrounds you clings back.
You realise that life could become very painful
and your previous easy life is a distant memory.
You wonder if you’re just staying alive for other people
because that is what they need,
because there is little else.
You cry less than you thought you would. The
world is muted, normality with an underlying
fear, a vibration you try to ignore but can’t.
Sometimes you hold steady, grabbing onto
nearby walls, planting heavy hands on tables
to stop them shaking. Sometimes you lean
back on your chair, close your eyes, begin to
droop. Play dead prematurely, let the heaving
ground pull you towards it, rest your cheek
on the concrete. Curse its cold welcome,
its armless embrace.
Sam Rose is a writer and editor from Northamptonshire, England. She is the editor of Peeking Cat Poetry and The Creative Truth. Her work has appeared in Scarlet Leaf Review, Poetry Pacific, Haiku Journal, In Between Hangovers, and others. Sam is a cancer survivor and primarily uses her experiences with this to write poetry and memoir. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to rock music and eating too much chocolate.
So wonderfully human. Ms. Rose had me holding my breath.
Thank you atenni, I’m glad you like it!
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