Writers who write about cancer

Time is tight this week. A new school year has begun and I am determined to stick to my 2000 words a day, particularly as I have promised the agent the completed novel by Christmas. However, I have been wanting to share this poem since it was sent to me a few months ago, and it got me thinking about how many published literary authors had grappled with the sensitive subject of cancer.

As it turns out a lot, as you can see on this list. It includes a number of my favourite authors such as, Margaret Atwood; Anne Lamont; Ian McEwan; and this poem by Raymond Carver.

Cancer is an emotive subject. It is also one that a lot of people don’t want to read about, and certainly not in fiction. However, authors have always written about subjects that others may find distasteful and morbid. They write about things that matter to them, or have scarred them. As cancer invades so many of our lives, it is inevitable that writers will write about it; having it, beating it, and watching the ones they love die from it. I, for one, seek the words of those who have survived the aftermath of losing someone they love to cancer. It helps me to heal. So while this post and the poem may not be for everyone, I hope for some it will bring comfort and the knowledge that they are not alone.

Collin Tobin is a writer I met on Authonomy (a website where writers can try out their work and get some feedback). Collin sent me the poem after he read the opening of my novel. I like it because it is not maudlin. In fact the voice is often light and mocking, although the final verse reveals the writer’s true feelings, and his sense of helplessness in the face of the relentless onslaught.

Your Cancer

I don’t want to kill your cancer
I don’t want to choke you both
With a cold cocktail of poisons
I don’t want to irradiate it
By setting your house on fire
And recklessly believe
You will be able stay
And only it will flee
I don’t want to excise it
Taking a merchant’s pound
Of your precious flesh

Instead, I want us to love it
Embrace it
I want us to nurture it
I want it to feel the warmth of my hand
Each waking morning
As I place it over your sleeping skin
And hope its fibrous tissues
Can reach out too
And feel the reassurance of a caring touch

I want us to feed it
Engorge it with raw, red meats
Permeate it through and through with carcinogens
I want us to find some old red dye #2 M&M’s
And spoil it rotten
I want to sit cross-legged with it
Each night on the floor of our quiet living room
And trade deep puffs from the Hookah pipe
While we three sit
In companionable silence

I want us to take it out into the blessed sun each weekend
Lather it in baby oil
And let it simmer contentedly next to us
Like a slab of happy fatback
Floating in a heated skillet

Because maybe then
It will not just grow, and attach
But grow, attached
Maybe it will pause just long enough
Grow sentient enough, to reconsider
To maybe scale back its self-defeating
Blind growth within you
And content itself with co-existence

Develop the intelligence enough
To want what we want
Just a fair measure of days
Through which we can carefully pick our way
To find those rarest days of all
The carefree ones

You can find Collin’s latest work here, and more about him here.

Collin Tobin on Facebook. Colin Tobin on Twitter: @coljtob

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