De Novo Soldier

My ugly secrets hide beneath my thin skin.
Infinitely fighting in my lonely final tour,
Not making the cut for
A battalion of beautiful survivors who stared directly into the eyes of the freshly dead.
Limping home and stitched together, held upright on a single crutch.
Matching in the endless parade
They inch away for you see how far things have come, bathed in the glow of pink light.
Open up their uniforms – memorialized by ink of the days in the tents with tattoos from the archipelago parlors.
They arrive home to live as normally as a plumed bird in a cage.
You tie ribbons around trees, draw a pretty pictures of pity,
Run tearfully from the doorstep leaving offerings of happiness,
Quickly cobbled with gum and string, with a note to “just keep the dish.”

In the dense tropical foliage, no one saw the soldiers hiding in my trenches.
With unsteady eyes I scan the papers for new strategic positions,
After training to uncover sleeper cells of suicide bombers.
I want to wear my cancer on my head like a turban, on my chest like scars,
My arms decorated by kisses of needles in iris colored bruises,
In the cover of an empresses’ new clothes embroidered with test results and dyed in thin blood.
I’m too ugly for a bouquet of flowers that I’m too pretty to receive.
Instead, you see all this so called beauty on which you judge me:
Looking too good for you to see through my truth.
My lies hide inside tunnels, only discovered by lighting them up with my beautiful bones.
Your eyes downcast rolling inside your shaking head in disbelief.
To you I’m just another junkie begging for a day without rain, without a pill to
Ease my pain, find me anonymously sweating in a red curtained opium den.

I am the Marine who comes home in a body bag without any glory, no pink procession, no honorable discharge.
How you turn and march away, goose-stepping in formation waving goodbye to my face in a crowd.
I bravely smile at you, while my raving mind searches for the stolen words I can’t find anymore.
Looking down my rifle’s sight, I find myself in the crosshairs and pull the trigger as I say goodbye.

Ilene

Female. East coast transplant living in the Bay Area of California. Living with Stage IV breast cancer. Married to the coolest guy in the universe who occasionally suffers from serious depression. Love my stepsons, although I never thought I'd have that thankless job - ever! And my best friend Simon is also my cat. How I have survived with stage IV: treatments including chemo and surgery; palliative oncology; tenacity; a dark sense of humor; support groups; and my newly reinvented career as a vintage and antiques maven. Some days I miss the old me who led a well respected and well paid life as a business strategist in high tech. So much for that. I blog to simply share my experiences and my poetic approach with others who have cancer of any kind or with their care givers and those who love them. If one person at the very least finds a little commonality or a friend out in the ether tor a smile, a common nod about this experience, or even a link to assistance, then I have accomplished a small but extraordinarily meaningful goal. Go team.

6 thoughts on “De Novo Soldier

    1. Sitting there in that bath feeling like shit and crying audibly made me feel like an ass. The last line of the first few drafts had the rifle crosshairs on the cured pink angels and me saying fuck you. Perhaos jealousy? We mostly get so litte in the way of the attention we need, both personally and on the the disease itself, I’m sick of hearing “poor ——-, she’s so sick, she has no hair. But she’s a fighter she will make it.” Blah, blah,blah.

      As though we stage 4 losers haven’t the fortitude or the good karma required for a recovery. A global lack of understanding of metastatic disease, and I can only speak for myself here, makes me feel like 9,000 kinds of shit, 4,500 for even feeling the way I do since I’m not the type of person to wish anything so ugly on anyone; we all suffer tremendously. The other 4,500 kinds of shitty feelings are really based on lack of general grace and decorum on the part of someone who could spew such verbal diarrhea, Although we may look fine, we are far far from it. Yuck. And don’t even get me started on the pink parades and lollipops and lemonade. That saccharine shit has gone too far. Profits not cures come from pink campaigns. It’s a metaphor so overused I can’t believe our community hasn’t taken to wearing black all the time – no fucking ribbon is going to cure us, and I don’t believe anyone was ever cured by the color pink. But maybe it has… And it de facto unfairly leaves out men.

      I don’t believe a new color or multi color ribbon helps either. In fact I believe it damages our cause further still. It simply removes us one step further away from the curables.

      #fuckcancer
      Oh and fuck every interruption when I’m clearly writing something followed up by “oh I don’t feel good,” when u don’t respond lickety split, Really? I’ll take 10 of your I don’t feel goods for my one of my I don’t feel goods. No one who does not suffer with stage 4 cancer would make that comment again in our presence, anyway.

      Oh my, it’s only Monday! Whew I’m in for a fun week I better take a pill. 🤮

        1. No more – my ass. Well that disappeared last year. I do think I’ll haul my flat ass out to Philly this year if at all possible – my onc told me to get travel insurance, he said at his age he does and it’s 2:1 odds I’ll feel like crap, but worth the chance. It’s time to get a little mouthier- publicly. I need to do some reconnaissance and see what the field is like. These are the skills i honed in what was my career. If you decide to go let me know. I want to meet you and all the others of us socialistas. Who knows if it’s worth it but another friend of mind “just joined the club” said her tearful message. I said have patience at first it’s going to seem like an eternity before anything happens but it will. I didn’t say how shitty it will be. Now she’s with us changed forever and indelibly by fucking cancer. It really just blows donkey dicks.

  1. Thanks Ilene.
    I love reading your writings. Thank you. I find each paragraph thought provoking and sad/funny/happy/deep/sarcastic – pick one – and I find that a lot applies to me too. I smile a lot!
    Cheers and thanks. Basil.

    1. Basil
      Add – “Cynical and bitter” – as my husband remarked on a read of the first or 31st draft. I said rubbish, my peeps will understand because it’s true. (although an ugly series of thoughts generated this puddle of poesy. A physical setback created a situation where my tendon had locked up, causing the foot to painfully turn inwards and I threw myself in a hot bath, post morning pain meds and fell asleep in the tub. I woke up crying “it’s not fair why is this shit never going to end,” and then out came some inappropriate jealousy of people who got supported because they look outwardly like they’re sick. I try to make every day as good as is possible in my circumstances. Including looking good as possible to somehow trick my consciousness into believing I am okay.

      My friend, I am glad you can relate and smile, unfortunately these diseases give us a vocabulary and emotional shorthand that we immediately understand, making rich connections, both on the cerebral and gut levels.

      Muchas gracias,
      Ilene

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