Hope Shifts: COVID19 to Cancer

I begin and end with hope. Born, we hope to live a long life. We haven’t a clue as to the concept of “not being” yet. It’s hard not to think about the concept of no longer breathing: rising to the sweet smell of ion charged air after a spring rain. The concept of seasons hasn’t penetrated our small forms yet. Fascinating that the eyes never grow and at birth we grow around our big eyes. Can we see more as our unfettered brains not yet cluttered with fear, with not knowing how we may find another meal. We love our mothers. Maybe because she feeds us. Maybe our primordial love grants us the will to cry out in pain, in hunger, in loneliness. As we grow into full fledged human being do we also grow into beings of more fears?

The “fears that we may cease to be” as John Keats wrote so long ago in his poem of the same title at the ripe age of 24, he’d lived in a time when the average age wasn’t approaching 80 as today in 2021. Or perhaps we grow into our hope. Maybe we hope to find love come to dry our tears from our adult sized eyes. Maybe these eyes bring in the light of hope, like the leaves on a tree draw in the sunshine to grow the fruits and flowers. Our fruits and flowers as human beings, at least for most of us, deliver the nourishment of awareness of the good in the world. Some believe in using fear for gain. My world shrinks to nothing if I hurt even a spider. I cannot imagine the feeling of killing either by my own hand or through my power over the way others think. Like in war or in cults.

If it feels like a broad topic, and it may be, it’s personal, too. What’s eating the United States, and from what I’ve read and seen, the United Kingdom, from the inside? Those who we hired by vote to protect us continue to stand aside watching m violence to drip like sweat from the pores of rioters inside the capitol of the United States. My own eyes were struck with fear as I studied a photograph of a police officer whose hand sat on the back of a riotous angry white man. Outside of the picture, he then entered the speaker of the house’s office and sat with bravado and his feet upon her desk. Within 24 hours he was arrested and given a sentence of just one year. Yet, were a black man, I guarantee he’d be a dead man. Of this I’m quite certain.

Yet there’s too much fear to face the disease of racism in such audacious act of treason. A crime against the state. A crime punishable by death. I’m immoderately unsure he deserves such a dear punishment. The brainwashing and propaganda disseminated by the short lived current administration ramped up many without facts that support the arguments of an unfair, illegal vote count. There’s no evidence as such. My own eyes wept with frustration and fear.

The reality of the COVID19 virus and it’s newly transmuted much more transferable viral brother continues to plague the world – specifically the United States and the UK. The first world countries that quickly gave us the vaccines are also hotbeds of exhausted first defenders and maxed out hospitals. We live in counties, my own Nevada County included as of today, where beds in Intensive Care Units reached 100% capacity and makeshift tents hold the sick and ailing infected by the virus. It’s as though we’re living through a war on our defensible land. A land we never thought we’d need to defend on our own soil.

Breast cancer’s not preventable by a mask. Or by self isolation. Or by remaining alone dying the holidays for a year. But we do this in some cases not of our choosing but because we are treated as though we had COVID19 all along. Our concerns include isolation and uncertainty. The concerns people about of COVID19 too include isolation and uncertainty. Do we believe the lessons of the many will translate into the care of us, the few in comparison, with MBC no matter the cause, our skin color, of socioeconomic positions? No, I doubt it. So there’s a connection between Covid and cancer. We’re doubly afraid to become ill, to be ghosted by former friends and family, to be alone and uncertain as to when we will die? It’s not if but when although the incidence of MBC has shrunk by 1.8% according to the statistics.

This country, is the same in which my own cancer center cannot give me an approximate idea of when I will receive the vaccine. This country where as we watch, we become voyeurs of a kind of war I hope to never see again. I watch with the same eyes I saw my mother bring a spoon to my mouth full of bananas and apple sauce. Such a vast amount of time has passed since I came into being as the Vietnam war started to become a reality. One of my favorite writers probably described it better than anyone. Susan Sontag who wrote “On Photography” and “Illnesses as Metaphor” was

“…probably the most influential writer on the intersection of violence and photography, didn’t buy this argument. With forensic prose, she cut through complacent apologias for war photography and set photojournalistic images of violence squarely in the context of viewers’ voyeurism.”

Tejeau Cole, The New York Times Magazine, 24 May 2018

Have we become wide eyed onlookers, ready to lose hope and lives simultaneously as the country must be bribed with stimulus checks like pornography? Have we lost hope in our own ability to find the heavy sadness of mass graves holding the unidentifiable dead who were dropped off at hospitals and found themselves alone, miserable, and dying?

Such feelings of anger well up in my heart: if we had the ability to create vaccinations against a deadly pandemic virus so quickly, what about cancer? Why can’t we put the pharmaceutical community on notice right now and give them the ability to produce an injection against something we supposedly know so much more about? Cancer won’t cause an economic depression. In fact I argue we need cancer to prop up the economy as we require less outputs from the military industrial complex. Who needs to die now in order to inject money into a false economy of unknown and unseen wars? It’s not Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s in my bones. I’m one metastatic cancer patient is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – I read one figure that a metastatic breast cancer patient brings the value of an oncologist to her organization upwards of $600,000 US per year. That’s insanity, statistically speaking. Take a few hours and read through gif following

American Cancer Society’s Facts and Figures 2020 ACS 2020 Fact Book – there’s an obvious problem from the outset. Cancer by definition is a pandemic not treats as such and in my estimation it’s because were worth so much to keep alive. If death is a protest I’d rather not participate. How will you protest our plight? Will our country be well enough to participate in the Die In this year? It do we stand by and watch as we die from what seems to be preventable except in 5-10% that are gene mutations from heredity – and even then is it possible to prevent those people from diagnosis? Here’s a nice neat list pulled together of facts in Breastcancer.org latest statistics:

  • About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.
  • About 2,620 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2020. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883.
  • About 42,170 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2020 from breast cancer. Death rates have been steady in women under 50 since 2007, but have continued to drop in women over 50. The overall death rate from breast cancer decreased by 1.3% per year from 2013 to 2017. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances and earlier detection through screening.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.
  • As of January 2020, there are more than 3.5 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. This includes women currently being treated and women who have finished treatment.
  • Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. In 2020, it’s estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers.
  • In women under 45, breast cancer is more common in Black women than white women. Overall, Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer. For Asian, Hispanic, and Native-American women, the risk of developing and dying from breast cancer is lower. Ashkenazi Jewish women have a higher risk of breast cancer because of a higher rate of BRCA mutations.
  • Breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000, after increasing for the previous two decades. They dropped by 7% from 2002 to 2003 alone. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by women after the results of a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative were published in 2002. These results suggested a connection between HRT and increased breast cancer risk. In recent years, incidence rates have increased slightly by 0.3% per year.
  • A woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than 15% of women who get breast cancer have a family member diagnosed with it.
  • About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to known gene mutations inherited from one’s mother or father. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. On average, women with a BRCA1 mutation have up to a 72% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. For women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk is 69%. Breast cancer that is positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations tends to develop more often in younger women. An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these genetic mutations. In men, BRCA2 mutations are associated with a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 6.8%; BRCA1 mutations are a less frequent cause of breast cancer in men.
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.
  • The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are sex (being a woman) and age (growing older).

In this I shift my hope again. I shift it to the general population and their eyes – the same eyes they’re born with and will die with to my and so many others bodies that have turned against us. Don’t look away. Don’t run when you become aware of a friend or a cousin with metastatic cancer. I leave you with a poem to describe my feelings in this matter.

Beaming with Hope

Hope Leaves on
Lemon trees fruits
Subject to yellow
So one tart section
Bites all the sun.
Drip juices ascetic
The most acidic of
The citrus
The gods gift to us
Coming forward to trust
The peel’s oil, metal rust
Can take the tin
Cans bring them all back
And then
Go hone a skill
And sip a little water from
My will.

I beam with a mess
Of healing light.
I received some, too
Today maybe the perfume
Left by a sweet
Mass, blood in a chalice
Quenched as
I dressed up like a goddess.
Secretly becoming
Scarred. Interested less
In hiding.
Can I remain in a nest
Like a red robed Robin
Born from blue
Shells that belie my lacking oxygen. On a beach
A great beam of
Might from
The lighthouse mirrors
Cut out a collage
Of media mixing
Flies and I file
Away the thinking
I can fix anything
Back anew.
Single file out into
A line we become one
Place where health walks heel to toe.
My place comes
Like everyone’s, eventually.
When can I conquer the enemies?
When does the line stop? What time Will it take up to heal the world?
We’re listening.
Without the next answer
Every green sings again
Every blue sleeps again
Every color clears again
Every hell
Finds its heaven again.
Open mouths breathe in to
Blow out the candle of our spirits.
Our lungs absorb – All the tears
Our hairless heads – All the rain
Our sore mouths – All the laughter
Our frail bones – All the power
Our thin skin – All the weakness
Our open hands – All the dealers
Our empty wallets – All the takers.
The gamblers and the monks
The grifters
The punks
And the lines of the me’s and the you’s
Lose all the freedom.
To know my soul
Existed before I boarded this train:
Crossing borderless countries
I am Aimless and unclothed
And I Break in my body.
There’s no optioning
No ownership
No forever
Not even a
Time share.
This time I cannot
Work to pay
All the rent.

As a spawn of the dead
A pawn of this life
For what I deplore
And who I defend
The punch
Line without any joke
Echoes in lustrous
love
And up in the
Attics unpacked
Into those dusty
rafters of hope.

A metastatic incurable romantic: am I wasting my precious time writing poems?

If you’re old enough you’ll remember the ABC Wide World of Sports voiceover while Slovenian skier Vinko Bogataj, whose immortalized crash off a ski-jump, came to epitomize defeat. While he falls down a mountain off a ski jump now over 50 years ago, the recognizable voiceover emotionally says, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

As with metastatic breast cancer, the imminence of death does not a loser make. It’s the lack of medications and research needed to fund those discoveries that failed to keep us alive. A mere 6-7% of your donations to breast cancer support MBC. As such, some of us may lose the fears we towed packed in our emotional baggage. Primarily the fear of death psince death, a fear just under speaking in front of large crowds, has already demoted itself on the lists of the terminally ill. It’s not in the “if’s” but the “when’s” column along with failure, love, isolation, support, and rejection. Part of poetry involves, like speaking to a crowded ballroom, boos and hisses of rejection by readers and if one chooses to try to become published by a journal or magazine. That’s if you can get past the selection criteria and the subjective taste of journal editor(s). Your writing might go to the publication using Submittable or other online tools that take the guesswork out of formatting and also take your money if there’s a fee associated with handing over your brilliant poesy for scrutiny.

However, not too many of us will get the trill of victory and wind up with a slew of letters or emails that will read something like:

Dear person of limited talents, 
Our publication receives thousands of submissions a year. Unfortunately, your poems do not fit within our very prestigious blah blah blah yadda yadda. Please feel free to send us another $20 per garbage we’ll likely continue to tear out your guts with by making you feel like a complete loser. Be well and stay safe.
Fuck you very much,
The Editor’s Form Letters

- Concocted example of a rejection letter

Loss and Pain

Writing poetry doesn’t differ much from masochism. Reading it feels much the same to some: as painful as fresh raw wounds inflicted via a sadistic whipping by a cat o’ nine tails. Line by line, verse after verse, sonnet or haiku, it’s a risk to spatter your page with blood from your open chest revealing your heart to the surgical public: only to hear through an anesthetic haze the comment that someone hates poetry. I’m sure in the population of readers more would rather a cancer diagnosis than read poetry for the rest of their lives. Should you fall into that side of the population, trust me, take the poetry, just as in The Godfather it’s best to leave the guns and take the cannoli rather than approach the screeching wife at home awaiting that night’s just deserts.

Joking aside, “Loss is not the same thing as defeat,” Stephen Colbert stated before an interview with Joe Biden in 2015 who lost his son. Biden’s son, Beau died of brain cancer at the age of 46 two years after diagnosis. Joe Biden, president elect, was head of the Obama administration’s cancer moonshot. But as 2020 comes quickly, and with relief to many of us, to a close, we all feel the defeat of the moonshot as it was. However, all’s not lost.

But in some sense we’ve all felt the loss of our selves as who we were to “bravely” become who we are now – as though we have another choice. We can refuse treatment and exercise our right to choose risking dying a quick and painful death.

We mourn our lost sisters and brothers. Immediately I can see on my mind the smiles of just a few of our friends who have died this year including lovely Katie lumps, Emily Garnett, and most recently Nancy Siebel, who died without warning and without a hint of sickness died a few weeks ago. While I mourn them, I mourn myself, too. Reminders of the unknowable future I’ve waiting for me. Sooner than later.

What does my fear have to do with writing? It’s my smoke signal that I’m still alive to my virtual network of friends. We hope to continue seeing writing come forth in our very personal blogs, our Twitter accounts, photos on Instagram, and even through the evil annals of Facebook, of which I’m vocally about not being a fan. I choose WordPress as my platform because I’m free to say what I want. You don’t have to like it or read it.

We all display different variants of expression. Annieasksyou writes similarly to my style of blogging, combining both personal essay and poetry. Others use different media altogether like The Brain Cancer Diaries by Rudy Fischman. Still others use their voices on a rising number of podcasts like the newer Our MBC Life podcast . And some blogs stick strictly to the topic like Nancy’spoint or Abigail Johnson’s NoHalfMeasures, and the lovely Marie Ennis-O’Connor’s Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. Still more like Gogs Gagnon and Julia Barnickle who reflect so wisely in books published for the sake of us all.

Egotistical Self-publishers

In a sense bloggers are all self publishers. There’s a colossal difference in the way poetry is written, who reads it, what anyone takes with them from our drawings in words. It’s frightening hitting the publish button. Knowing a few people will read it, fewer still will “like” it, and fewer still may understand my illegible thoughts enough to comment. And I read a lot of blogs because the conversations exist between us – either stated or unspoken. Sometimes I find myself answering a question someone poses in their blog or that came up in a conversation by way of commenting.

If you read my blog you’ll notice I’ve been publishing more poetry recently. First, I plan to self publish a chap book. For those both uninterested in poetry and who really just don’t like reading it, a chap book is a small volume usually about 40 pages of poetry.

You might find reading topic specific poetry in bite sized chunks more palatable. But the chapbook has more historical importance than you might know:

Chapbook is first attested in English in 1824, and seems to derive from the word for the itinerant salesmen who would sell such books: chapman. (The surname of the man who some say under the control of the CIA murdered one of our great modern musical poets, John Lennon) The first element of chapman comes in turn from Old English cēap (‘barter, business, dealing’) from which the modern adjective cheap was subsequently derived.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapbook

Historically Speaking

Though cheap, modern writers and readers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gutenberg and his 17th century printing press, to John Locke’s and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s influence on the 18th century age of enlightenment, and the rise of the library loaning books for free to a general population.

With a literacy rates growing for both men and women (Locke viewed education, not women, as inferior, hoorah for John Locke.) The thirst for reading materials seemed unquenchable but it also presented some expense most everyone except the elite 1% of the population could afford. Sound familiar – have music and the arts kept their place in a good public education? Money can’t buy love of painting or dance. Or poetry.

In the 17th through 19th and early 20th centuries, poetry presented a well-liked, digestible medium. Popular poets were like modern film and recording stars both in the United States and in Europe. How sexy Lord Byron and Joh Keats really were is certainly debatable but they had their way with the fairer sex of the time. I suggest If you’re interested, pick up the bawdy Boswells London Journal, which provides an excellent portrait of 17th century’s rise of literacy. James Boswell journals his experiences in acquiring the interviews with Samuel Johnson, the first lexicographer and the man who penned the first English dictionary.

The book also portrays the attitude towards women’s literacy and of women becoming writers in their own right. Negative to say the least, but times change, and Kamala Harris although a late entrant into the hammering of the glass over our heads will remain an historical bookmark in the pages of modern American history.

Here’s a quick poem in light of my ever present concern over the entirety of what’s expected. Can we ever release ourselves through verse, through guilt, or anything for that matter? There can be many reasons why poetry can’t heal certain psychological scars. I think the last four years may be one of them:

A Moon shot through 
My heart: I fell out of favor
Beside the children in cages
On the border between
US and those
Who pick our fruit.
Or you weren’t aware
Covered in blood
From a million little pricks
Of ridiculous idolatry
Worship or die to
Learn the fate of
The incoming.
Dignified and individually
Wrapped, ready
From a long run
To pick up a lighter
Set the fuse on fire
And liftoff.
Watch that long tail
Don’t you notice the red glare —
The truth? Pull us out of the dark
Age of carcinogenic
Hairline breaks and
Open the crates.
Release us from our fate
On the broken backs
And the bloody hands
Of our future makers.
The strawberries and oranges
(Does nothing rhyme anymore?)
I can again rot in the
Cold bin of the fridge
Leave the rest grounded
Feeding only worms,
Like I will
Someday.

Sometimes Silence is Golden, Sometimes

Sometimes there’s acts requiring virtual silence to absorb whatever is said, and for poets, what’s unsaid: how we choose the breaks between stanzas and lines; rhyme schemes versus free verse; trapping ourselves in a structure like a Westin’s or sonnet; how we begin a verse; and how we choose our timing – slow versus fast beats, short or long lines. I know for myself my process starts with a flow – I let whatever my mind must let loose to the page – in the majority cases these days, an electronic page. Now there’s no going back to earlier drafts and I am not sure if I’m better off for it or worse off…but that’s my chosen path. Otherwise I could spend years in revision. I’ve learnt to cut and slice out what I hope makes sense to the reader and to me.

The last six years allowed me the time for a huge period of maturing in my writing; it’s also concurrent to when I started the blog five years ago.

I often wonder why my readership ebbs and flows. And what’s really interesting is that the more popular posts tend also to be the most personal.

Having an MBC makes ones life a train wreck. I think it’s probably anyone’s guess as to when the train will hit us and there will be no more words published – I publish once a week for this reason. If I stop – you can bet something has gone terribly wrong with my health. When I do finally succumb to my terminal illness, I have a last post written that a friend I trust is instructed to publish on my blog. It will flow to all my social media accounts and that will be the end.

But it’s not the end. The whispering of words will continue to speak for our lives beyond our deaths. Our names and our writings will linger on, as long as MBC is a big deal and it is. And as long as we keep dying from cancer, and we will.

I suppose the tragedy, my own illness, the crowned prince of all viruses, coronavirus 19, the deaths to come, are really portrayed by my own mortality reflected in the eyes of the frightened and the ignorant. It’s extraordinary to see the amount of people afraid and alone. I live my life, isolated with uncertainty underlining my own careful steps to remain with the living and the people I chose as my family. Those who share my blood do not even check in to see if I’m still pumping my own red cellsp through my veins. Fuck ‘em. Believe what they want since I’ve not found my way home since 2006.

Musical palate cleansing

Steve Windwood – Can’t Find My Way Home

Come down off your throne leave your money at home…And I’m wasted and I can’t find my way home.

A fabulous one-man acoustic version of a song my honey doesn’t particularly like for some reason, but brings tears to my eyes.

Here’s my last poem of 2020, a year to remain in hindsight where it belongs. I wrote to end this tragic year – perhaps as always, I turn to poetry when the sourness of reality impinges on this sweet life in a body I borrowed in 1965 to use this brain and these hands to communicate something to anyone who cares to read or to listen. Be safe. Be well. We’ve a long way ahead of us; magical fairy dust cannot cure the ill or the ailing and divided union. But it certainly can begin to give us hope. And as the women we lost to metastatic breast cancer this past year, let’s hope their lives hadn’t passed us by without teaching us all something. Something about grace. I hope they feel no pain. I hope for all our lives. Every last one of us.

A year of tragic proportions
full of lies and propaganda
Yet too, of truth and love.
How does anyone now doubt my disease:
Like my love
you may not see what flows
in me. Yet my blurry
Eyes set you
in a rifle site.
I shoot Scattershot
right into the crowds of cows.
Once up all night with
Dreams of toilet paper,
Of asses cleaned
By dirty hands
And shit created
With growth hormones
pasting together
small squares to
wipe away the false flavor
of what was once a berry.
How far have we sunk
like Atlantis that once beautiful city with streets live with the hustle and flow of
coming and going
replaced with the fast footprints of people running from the tide
of the laws of nature
the cops of the righteous
washing away our sins.
Women grabbed unwillingly
by the hands of moonlight.Future
Archaeologists may dig
shuttered small shops and the bones of
the dead lines in a Target.
Will we again communally eat at celebration meals?
Long tables of false bounty hunted
by the loners and the lonely,
whose social distance is much more than six feet,
it could be six feet deep under the earth,
where epitaphs will not read
Rest In Peace —
but of life stolen
in a looting of family photos by a violence so incredible we no longer can breathe under
The hard knees of insanity
As our necks crush
Under the weight of the onlookers
Who died inside
But left the rest of us
For live. But we died that night, too
It’s said hindsight’s 2020 and
By all accounts
The book’s written.
The authorities found the writer
And his unnatural wife
On a course in Florida
Where the tides came to wash away
The sins and the sinister.

Video: Add a Face to My Words

This is one of the videos I have been asked to do this year to talk about life with metastatic breast cancer. They’re difficult to get out – sometimes by voicing these emotions, I feel like I’m separating the cream from the milk if you know what I mean, and afterwards comes the “clouds in my coffee” – and it’s not vanity but tears that fall. When verbal expressions of deep seated feelings surface the sadness fills up and over the brim of a cup I hold delicately in my hands.

I also thought you might like to see me, although it may send some of you to the unsubscribe button I hold out hope that instead you’ll see more of me and the effects of my disease on my life. Please enjoy and excuse the raw, unedited quality or lack thereof. Just life at the dining room table – no fake news, all fumbles and stutters, without subtitles or captions. The real me.