beaded trout

What they don't tell you when they tell you about cancer

Don't get me wrong.
They tell you all the good stuff.

They tell you about the chemicals.
The hair.
The loss of weight, the sudden reduction to skeleton:
Or, weight gain, the great pale bloat.
Hooded eyes, yellowing hide.
Wigs, scarves, fashionable coverups.

They tell you about dripping noses.
Rain that runs past the vanished eyebrows.
Fluids that drip and bleed and build and flow.

They tell you about your tumour.
Size shape stage position.
Name, variety, sub-type.
Percentages and percentages and percentages.
Chemo radio hormone surgery chemo.
Best points of access.
Through the skin.
Down the throat.
Through the anus.
Cutting excising penetrating.

They tell you about hospital visits.
Long boring hours waiting.
Long boring hours hooked to an IV.
Short consultations with harassed doctors.
Long chats with bored nurses.
Hard furniture. Strip lighting.
Iodine and bleach, and piss and shit.
Machine coffee.

They tell you about emotions.
Five stage simplifications.
Grief counselling.
Anger management.
Managing your expectations.
Managing your time.
Making the most of it.
Compulsory gratitude.
Flare ups.
Weepiness.
Yoga calm bullshit.

They tell you about miracles.
Vitamins.
Prayer.
Fresh fruit and vegetables.
Copper wristbands.
Pyramids.
Lemon juice.

They tell you causes.
Pleasurable vices.
Family inheritance.
What you didn't do.
What you should have done.

They tell you about friends.
Friends who understand.
Friends who make it their drama.
Friends who make you into Cancer Girl, Heroic Fighter.
Friends who go silent.
Friends who suddenly can only see your husband.
Friends who were never friends.

All this and more they tell you.
The girl who lived, the cousin that died.
The guy on TV this one time who everyone gave up on but who through sheer determination read every scientific paper on his cancer and developed this new drug and tested it on himself and now they're crowdfunding a statue.
This woman who made it to 100.
That celeb dead at 23.

They tell you that the grey tide never ebbs.
That everything else becomes cancer, too.
Cancer school run.
Cancer timesheets.
Cancer State of the Union Address.
Cancer driving.
Cancer piano lessons.
Cancer text to say I'm running late.
Cancer mopping the floor.
Cancer after work drinks.
Cancer tax returns.
Cancer holidays.
Cancer poems.

The only thing they don't tell you when they tell you about cancer -
Or maybe I was asleep that day -
Is that it ends.
The medicine works, the broken body mends;
More often than not, these days,
And the world resumes its mad dash to the next adventure
And, yes, one day something will end you,
But not, not, not today.

James Mackay


contents of issue 8

IN TIME OF TROUBLE
Linda Rodriguez

The Healing Soup
Jaunita Pahdopony

Army of Artists
Raymond Nat Turner

Where Wings once were
Zigi Lowenberg

What they don't tell you when they tell you about cancer
James Mackay

Ghosts Floating on the Flat White Bed
Erika T. Wurth

Remission Dawning
Stephany JT Russell

Fire Garden
Suha Hassan


James Mackay Biography

James Mackay is a British academic, resident in Cyprus. He's edited a collection of essays on Cherokee'descent poet Diane Glancy, another on representations of Native Americans in Europe, and is one of the founder_editors of the journal Transmotion.


Permission to publish poems in this one context was granted by the authors, who unless otherwise specified, hold copyright on these works.