Our eldest daughter is turning 13. Unfathomable. Time has flashed by so quickly.
That also means that my husband is about to observe his 13-year anniversary of successful cancer treatment. Thank God. Thirteen years and nary a blip on his health charts suggests he ever had anything seriously wrong with him.
At the time of his diagnosis I was four months pregnant; and dealing with both - expecting our first child and watching Thom endure his many long chemo days, plus surgeries - often seemed overwhelming. After his diagnosis, almost instinctively, I wrote a poem about our situation. It started like this:
I write the words that are true:
My husband has cancer.
I write the words that may be true:
My husband is dying.
Writing those words was terrifying—and therapeutic. Even though I was a published poet, I had fallen out of the poetry habit. But pregnancy and cancer turned on the tap: And poetry offered the best way to crystallize my feelings and, sometimes, cope with the unimaginable.
Shortly after my husband ended his treatment and our daughter was born (the same month!), I launched a national cancer-related poetry anthology, inviting patients and survivors, spouses and partners, family members, friends and health-care practitioners to submit cancer-related poems. I felt sure that in publishing such a volume, the poems would affirm readers' feelings in dealing with cancer.
At first, receiving a few envelopes in my mailbox was exciting, but as I returned again and again to a mailbox packed with envelopes, I was awed by how many of us write poetry to cope with and surmount cancer. From 1,200 submissions, my editorial team selected 140 of the best and The Cancer Poetry Project was published. The critical acclaim has thrilled all of our published poets—some well-known writers, others brand-new.
Since then, rarely a week goes by that I don't hear from readers about how particular poems touch them and how often they feel moved to write their own. This year, I'm happy to be receiving new entries for potential inclusion in our second volume. And again I feel reading each one the comfort a fabulous poem — whether heart-breaking, poignant or even hilarious — provides.
Another version of this column is included on Survivor's Review this quarter at www.survivorsreview.org. For more information about submitting poetry to The Cancer Poetry Project, visit www.cancerpoetryproject.com.