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Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Losing who I am, who I was and who I could be
Drowning in the infinite deep sorrow that confounds me.
Some days I dangle lifeless from the limbs of this great tree,
Succumb to all the tumours that have set up camp inside me.
‘She always smiles and rarely cries’, is what they think about me,
But there is so much pain inside that they can never see.
‘You must stand firm,’ I hear their voices urge me,
But there are days when I could sink to the bottom of the deepest, darkest

Sea, the sea – please take what’s left of me
And carry it far from this place where I’m no longer me.
The darkness falls, the moon hangs high over
The sea, the sea – the song that cries her every night to sleep.

Closed eyes now blink, she finds a new dawn waking.
Pain dissipates, her soul no longer aching.
There’s light and hope, deep fears are now abating.
Then one more step she finds the strength to take into

The sea, the sea – please save what’s left of me
And carry it back to the place where I am truly me.
The sun shines bright, my soul feels light under
The sea, the sea – restoring dreams of who I’ll one day be.

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‘You’re too heavy!’ the little girl in pink overalls hollered to the Adult sitting vaguely on the downside of the see-saw. The bright sun glared into the Child’s wide blue eyes, blinding her into even greater frustration. “I-can’t-get-down!!!” she wailed. By now she looked as frazzled as she felt, pink cheeks hotly flushed and pink bows coming loose, long sweaty strands of dark hair spilling onto her warm forehead.

The woman was utterly distracted. She couldn’t hear the Child screaming frantically above her or see her legs kicking wildly. Angelica’s mind was saturated with the news of her diagnosis. How could she possibly process all that was happening to her? A thousand medical appointments. A million medical professionals, each one wanting her to read this, sign that, test for this, decide that, start this, finish that. Now this. Then that. Panicked, she had begun to run, desperate to escape all that this illness had begun to take from her and suddenly demanded of her.

All morning, her feet had pounded the ground: left-right-left-right-this-that-this-that. But when she passed through the thick forest and neared the bright playground, her long adult strides slowed into small, simple, child-like steps. For the briefest moment, she was no longer a cancer patient, but a healthy, blissful child once more, dancing in the sun. Relief washed over her, and Angelica eagerly scanned the playground to find the little lost girl – a younger, healthier version of herself.

Past the slippery slide. Past the swings. Past the flying fox. What Angelica needed desperately was something that would help her to find her balance again. Finally she saw where the Child sat expectantly on the old wooden plank. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation, longing to be raised high into the air. But the very moment Angelica had thrown one leg over the see-saw, her tired mind retreated in despair. ‘This MRI, that biopsy, this chemotherapy, that radiation …’

“No!!!!” the Child screamed. “You only just got here!” And while Angelica’s body was on the see-saw, the little girl knew the Grown Up’s mind was already elsewhere, spinning wildly on the round-a-bout of this-that-this-that-this-that. Panicked, the Child closed her eyes and began to chant a desperate prayer of colours. “Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red.” She squinted through long lashes and spied a faint flash of blue, then a bright blur of red, moving through the forest that surrounded the playground.

Angelica was beyond exhaustion. Overwhelmed. She closed her weary eyes, tempted to pray for some kind of miracle, but found herself too depleted to open them again. The Child glanced quickly down at the Adult, then began to chant once more: “Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red.” She kept her eyes scrunched closed but knew in her heart that the colours were moving closer. Her feet no longer flailed wildly but began to swing lazily in the gentle, magical breeze.

“Blue-red-blue-red-blue-red,” she began to giggle, the fear leaking, then pouring, out of her heart. She could see the colours starting to glow brighter than the hot sun through her closed eyelids. And as Angelica issued a silent prayer like a petition to some distant physician, she knew in her heart that all she could do was just sink down into the fullest depths of her despair. Just slide off the see-saw and into the dirt. Just disappear into the mud she would make with the million tired tears that promised to drown her. There was no point fighting it anymore.

“You’re here,” the Child whispered, slowly opening her eyes to see a strong boy wearing a long blue coat and a beautiful girl with eyes like the clearest rubies, balancing their way with arms outstretched up the plank towards her. The three children straddled the high end of the see-saw, their weight still insufficient to raise the almost lifeless adult. The girl in the red dress smiled calmly while the boy reached deep into his pocket. Something seemed to flicker softly in his hand. Then just as her darkest thought prepared to consume her, Angelica felt a soft breeze brush against her face, then another by her ear as though something lighter than a snowflake had landed on her shoulder.

Though her eyes stayed closed, she knew she was being flooded with colour and she sensed the sequence strongly. ‘Blue-red-pink. Blue-red-pink,’ she whispered over and over again. The colours felt like butterflies, hundreds of them, landing on her shoulders, opening and closing countless wings again and again to cool and soothe her troubled soul. “Blue. Red. Pink,’ she intoned even slower still, breathing into her lungs each colour’s unique magic: ‘Strength. Clarity. Hope.’ Angelica’s heart had never felt lighter, and the lightness began to lift her off the ground.

When she opened her eyes, they were dazzled by the intense mosaic that covered her shoulders, arms and legs like sunshine streaming through a cathedral’s stained glass windows. Her disbelieving gaze followed the exquisite creatures in their thousands up the full length of the see-saw, now splashed with bright splotches of colour. The decaying wooden plank had become a living rainbow, a blissful bridge between adult illness and child-like awe and wonder.

When Angelica’s eyes reached the end of the bridge, she found herself gazing into the faces of three small children who sat in perfect balance opposite her on the see-saw. She watched as the boy released endless butterflies from the pocket of his long blue cloak. Strength. Clarity. Hope. The words did not spin round and round inside her head like this-that-this-that-this. Instead, they soared blissfully up then delightfully down, then blissfully up again.

From that point, Angelica’s feet only ever touched the ground for the briefest of moments before being carried skywards by the gentle rainbow of butterflies. Yes, she would come down to earth for this surgery or that chemotherapy session, but the butterflies would always lift her again. She surrendered herself completely to the mosaic of life and light and hope balanced delicately on her shoulder, as it lifted her weightlessly skywards once more.

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Just two days after having the largest of her five tumours removed in surgery, Angelica was ecstatic to finally pull herself out of her lumpy hospital bed and into a soft chair beside a window, looking out across the nearby rooftops in the direction of some distant grey  mountains. She was not comfortable, but she was satisfied, just to know that she had somehow found a small reserve of strength to lift her body and her spirits and to know that her recovery was truly underway.

The past forty-eight hours had been little more than a blur to her. There were conversations and visitors she could barely remember at all, and other vaguely whispered questions that echoed inside her clouded mind like a carousel of dusty dreams, like ‘Have I had surgery yet?’, followed again and again by the exact same question only moments or hours later. She was relieved to feel a scrap of colour return to her paper-white cheeks with just a few licks of a cool icy-pole, and now finally, dressed in her own nightshirt instead of the rough, hospital issued wrap-around, she felt that she was finally returning to and reclaiming some small part of her own pre-surgery self.

She smiled at the small nightstand in the corner of the otherwise dull private room, covered entirely with orange and yellow lilies, peach gerbras, red carnations and glittery apricot singapore orchids. Then there were the helium balloons that always followed her to lift her out of her darkest moments – a pixie flying with wings and wand outstretched, pointing beyond the window, inviting Angelica to fly outside. A second bright balloon, rounder than a bubble, was adorned with happy golden fish and coral and a treasure chest, cheerfully emblazoned with the words ‘Hope You’re Feeling Better’. And every moment, she did feel better, and stronger, and somehow more alive.

Her eyes moved across the nightstand to see a small teddy bear dressed like a bumble bee, a pink dolphin and a purple octopus, a magically scented cloth rose and a life sized cut-out of a Disney mermaid, smiling with enormous blue eyes back to her where she sat in her chair. A large canvas artwork formed the backdrop to this all, hand-drawn by her best friend, Langley, representing all the characters in all the stories they had written together over many months past. There was the magical white haired boy in the long blue cloak, with the girl in pink overalls with pink bows in her hair on his left and the beautiful girl in the pretty red dress on his right, all staring far into the picture towards the enormous Friendship Tree. From its branches dangled an empty swing  and the delightful ladybug, dragonfly and butterfly mobiles the three children always loved to decorate the branches of their beloved tree with. Nearby, a ladybug, a butterfly and a dragonfly sat quietly perched atop of their respective flowers. A red  rose sat sheltered inside a glass dome beside a golden path, and the ears and tail of a red fennec fox could be spied just slightly emerging from a golden field of wheat.

In the far distance, there was an Ivory Tower, threatened by clouds but decorated in rainbow paint by some rescuers who knew how destructive that tower could be to the princess trapped inside it. A sheep cloud, a candle and a Book of Dreams appeared to be suspended in a vast blue sky that hovered in stillness over a white paper boat that floated past the Island of Lost Children, governed by a Little Prince, the hero of yet another magic-filled story. A starry night sky filled the final top corner, glistening with stars that were full of wishes just waiting to be wished. Each nurse and visitor to Angelica’s hospital room would gravitate towards the canvas, asking ‘Who did that? And what does it all mean?’ ‘This is the tale of the mighty Friendship Tree,’ Angelica would reply, her eyes sparkling with the knowledge of many stories told and many still to be written. ‘This is a Tree rich with the fruit of imagination, a testament to the fact that True Friendship is one of the strongest forces that can be imagined.’

Outside of this canvas, Angelica knew that the days, weeks and months ahead would present her with a myriad of challenges, the like of which she had never faced before. Yet for her, the treatments to come – the many months of recovery, radiation and chemotherapy that would put her life on hold and challenge her to the fraying edges of her courage and strength, were abstract and ephemeral compared to the world that came to life now on the canvas on the hospital nightstand. This world was vibrant, magical, powerful and whimsical. It could never fail to restore her faith, hope and delight. There was powerful medicine here that could completely bring her tired body back to life.

The light that shone through the hospital window and onto the canvas was filled with promise that one day – soon – every aspect of life would be vibrant and colourful once again. Now here came the orderly with her free-fluids dinner: some bland pumpkin soup, red jelly, lemon sorbet and a small tub of custard. Today, she had begun to eat again, even if the bites could only be tiny ones, and tomorrow she would begin to write again, crafting passionately magical, whimsical words to hang like butterfly mobiles from the branches of her beloved Friendship Tree.

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    Angelica sat upon the large, dark, damp circle not too far from the water’s edge. She had expected to wade into the water to find the glistening treasure box of shells again, but here they all were, gathered strangely and almost dry, as if waiting for her to come and sit quietly, to seek and sort and sift. This time, the sun did not sparkle onto the tiny jewels, bringing out of them the radiant fire of colour and the sparkling illusion of life. The sky was grey, a reflection of her own dimly lit soul, for she had just learned that she was very sick again and fat drops of rain threatened to fall in the place of the self-pitying tears she refused to cry.

    The tiny shells, thousands of them, formed a cushion around and beneath her. She unclasped the silver chain around her neck, with its shiny Friendship Tree medallion, diamond butterfly, sparkly pink rose and the long dragonfly charm set with small square pink stones, all reminding her of the dear friends who had so often been within arm’s reach, those she cherished the most. But today she sat on the beach alone, searching for those shells that were special, pretty and strong enough to be threaded onto her silver chain.

    ‘When I am trying to recover, to beat this illness again,’ she explained to herself, ‘this will be my way of keeping the ocean close to my heart, giving me life and strength.’ She knew that it would be a very long time before she would be well enough to dive again beneath the nearby pier that seemed now to fade into a distant fog before her. ‘No, I will not be here with you,’ she sighed to the ocean, ‘So I must take part of you there with me,’ and she searched and sorted and selected those tiny, treasured trinkets that would carry all the fullness of the ocean inside them around her neck.

    ‘Did you think I wouldn’t come?’ a sweet voice spoke softly behind her. And looking up she saw the beautiful girl in the flowing red dress move like a dream towards her, an unexpected sadness in her eyes. The girl was older than she had ever been before, full of elegance, grace and understanding that had somehow come through transcending all the trials and suffering of the past. ‘How she inspires me,’ Angelica breathed, rather than whispered, and instinctively she held out the silver chain, asking the girl to ‘Choose’. Carefully the girl with rubies for eyes perused the small collection on the chain and selected a pearly shell with a soft pink hue.

    ‘I will take this one to remember you by,’ the beautiful girl smiled, ‘But in its place, you must take these two.’ And she threaded onto the chain a long, dark spiralled shell and one that was tiny and almost perfectly round, like a child’s plastic bead. ‘The first,’ she explained, ‘reminds you that your path will be dark and windy, but that you will never, ever walk it alone. The second – ‘, she paused, as though hesitating to find the words, ‘will remind you that life is simpler than we sometimes think, and that when you see it through the eyes of a child, you realise that there is nothing to be feared.’

    A magic breeze blew gently across the water and up onto the shell-strewn circle, and with it the girl in the red dress carrying the scent of roses vanished and Angelica’s most magical friend, the white haired boy, appeared. ‘Please give me that shell there,’ he pointed to the chain, ‘For it is small but very strong, the same colour as my hair. And in its place, I leave you this – ‘, his eyes threatened to swell with rain, and indeed at that moment, a cold rain began to fall steadily and the boy in the long blue cloak dissolved from sight. Angelica looked down into the palm of her hand where he seemed to have placed an intricately folded note on pale blue paper.

    Her first instinct was to open it, to see what magical words would be written inside, but then she knew without doubt that this paper must never be unfolded. Standing carefully, for it pained her now to lift her body up from the dark, shell-encrusted circle on which she sat, she moved with all the courage she could muster down towards the water’s edge where she sent the tiny paper boat out on its unfathomable journey. She watched as it bobbed, threatening to be overcome by the smallest wave, then surfaced again to travel the length of the misty pier, almost disappearing from view.

    ‘What’s that?’ she heard the smallest voice beside her, then felt a tiny hand reaching up to hold her own. Here was a child she had never seen before. A true child – maybe five years old, with long dark hair and kind, mischievous eyes – not just a child in spirit. ‘I’m Autumn,’ the child explained, and as she spoke, her words smelled like the sweetest rain and falling leaves. ‘You are very sick and I have come to bring you joy.’ And despite the pain that gnawed at her body like a towel being wrung dry between one’s hands, Angelica reached down and lifted the child high into her arms, and they squeezed one another tightly that they might give each other strength that would last each of them their lifetimes.

    Setting her gently down again, their eyes locked them deeply together into tiny waves of laughter, like the ones that carried the paper boat off into its happy journey. Hand in hand, Angelica and Autumn ran from the water’s edge, the sound of the shells dangling around Angelica’s neck chiming like the ice in a sweet summer’s drink. Together they skipped away, away, up onto a rolling green hill where they collapsed together in a delightfully messy pile of the sweetest giggles. Angelica wrapped her arms around the child, feeling the strong, young heartbeat pounding blissfully against her own. Yes, she was tired and sick, and when she closed her eyes, she could almost believe that right now she was just a step or two from heaven.

    Angelica sighed, breathing in the crisp Autumn air, the nearby sea breeze and every sign that, at this very moment, she was still quite fully alive. It would be many months before she would be strong enough to return to the water’s edge, to search once more for tiny shells or to slide again beneath the long, misty pier like a bright fish, full of energy and possibilities. But for now, this one moment of life was enough, and she would take it like the shells around her neck with her into whatever the next moment might hold. She felt herself float and disappear like the tiny blue paper boat. It was no longer within her view, but she knew that it was still on its adventure into unknown waters and she determined, with everything within her, to see her voyage through to its mysterious, unknowable end.

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