Disclaimer: this post doesn’t have much to do with writing. Except, I suppose, that we are encouraged to write about what matters to us. I hope that’s a valid enough excuse for me to keep writing.
My best friend has cancer.
Well, she had it. As it stands now, she is a 26 year old woman in remission from Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. She has newly chubby cheeks from the steroids they make her take and newly short hair which is soft and downy like a baby’s. A year of her life (which otherwise would have been filled with wedding planning and completing her Midwifery training) has disappeared into a hurricane of hospital beds, IV lines and strangers with clipboards. But none of these things matter now, in comparison to the one fact which, previously taken for granted, is now all that matters. She is still here. She is alive.
I have avoided writing a poem about Grace for a long time because she is much better at poetry than me. I first started liking poetry at university when we lived together, and she would read it aloud to me.
Grace found out she had cancer just under a year ago. She has dealt with the whole thing with a vaguely pissed off nonchalance which I have found staggering: I can’t even deal with being gossiped about or talking to strangers on the phone. But yesterday she was reasonably frustrated: after being asked to move to a Young Person’s Cancer unit, the ward sister told her she couldn’t use the special facilities (a TV room, x boxes, the kitchen) on the near empty ward because they were for young persons aged 25 and below. Grace turned 26 last month. And she’s recovering from cancer. The lack of compassion was unfathomable.
So I wrote this sonnet thinking about how the nurse was more attached to the rule and to her patient as a statistic rather than seeing Grace as a person. And she is a wonderful person.
p.s. I love this second photo of Grace, because the fish tank in the background reminds me that when we lived together in our 4th year, we bought two fishes (Dolly and Kenny) which mysteriously died within 24 hours of purchase. Being the lazy layabouts that we were back then, we just scooped out and disposed of the dead fish, then kept the tank – death water and all – on display for approximately 6 months. With this level of commitment to hygiene in mind, it wasn’t particularly surprising that we had a vermin issue.
Today you are yellow and twenty-six.
I can see that these stats make you feel blue.
The skies around the ward are charcoal grey
But colours prismatic still burst from you.
The ward sister is a bleach white abyss.
(Cancer’s cool at twenty-five and under).
Your cogent disdain is cool duck egg blue
But your outrage strikes as blood red thunder.
You read poetry in smooth pastel rose
and daydream of whales in aquamarine.
Your dream to win crufts is black, white and gold.