Adventures With Cancer, Part 4


The Upper East Side office is on the ground floor of a brownstone. The brass handle is heavy in my hand as I push the door open and step into a room occupied by several women reading magazines.

A large glass bowl filled with Kingfisher daisies sits on a low glass table in the middle of the waiting area.

My soon to be husband is waiting for me, pats the seat next to him. A single slant of sun bisects the floor. He holds my hand and I cross my legs and swing one foot in and out of the light.

Through the small glass window of reception I can see a large bulletin board tacked with pictures of babies.


Triplets in matching jumpsuits.

Chubby babies in the bath. Babies blowing bubbles. Babies with big wet gummy smiles.

Several blue petals lie on the floor under the glass table like small breathless fish.

I’m thinking about scans. An MRI in two days. A CAT scan the day after that. I wonder if cancer lights up a bone like shoots of bright spring flowers.

The intake form asks how long have you been trying to conceive and number of miscarriages.

I am thinking about chemotherapy. Nausea. My hair. The wedding.

The exam room is non-descript other than an ultrasound machine plugged into the wall. The gown I wear has small green diamonds across it, ties once around the neck, once around the waist.

There is a photograph of a small white boat and impossibly blue water.

My soon to be husband is on the doctor’s rolling stool, careening back and forth across the tiny room. He is trying to make me laugh.

For a moment I hate him.

For a moment I want to be very small and climb up his solid body to his broad shoulders and whisper go, go.

I will myself to leave. I feel unreasonable. I feel oddly reasonable. I imagine walking out the door in the green gown, climbing on the next bus, climbing into bed.

The doctor is tall and I am transfixed by the gray curls brushing the top of his coat. His shoes are impeccable. Italian. I hate him. I feel like a beggar. Please give me some embryos. 

I imagine how the doctor must sit on the edge of his bed early in the morning as his wife sleeps. How he must bend to tie his shoes so carefully as not to shake the bed.

He shakes my hand. Asks questions. I want to shake him. I want to yell, Don’t you know I might be dying? He explains the ultrasound. Inserts the wand. Says here is your uterus and here is your right ovary. 

I see moonscape. Sand. A terribly still ocean. A static field.

I feel my husband to be put his hand on my forehead and think of E.E. Cummings:

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

Read PART 1

Read PART 2 

Read PART 3 

read to be read at

54 thoughts on “Adventures With Cancer, Part 4

  1. From the Kingfisher daisies to sand. Wow. I love the moonscape – terribly still ocean – a static field. I could drive my students crazy for 42 minutes with the symbolism and hints at more to come. But I’ll just enjoy and bask in your skill.

  2. Oh Jen.
    Heartbreaking, beautiful, desperate… I am just so glad that you are still here. With your husband and your children. So glad.
    That poem went right through my heart. Just like you, my friend!

  3. isn’t cummings just always the right poet? or usually, anyway? and sometimes prose simply isn’t sufficient; poetry becomes the lifeline. it’s like alchemy, the ability to transform pain into beauty, which is what this post does.

  4. Jen, such beautiful description – I especially liked the way you described the sunlight, and how your foot kept dancing in and out of the light. Beautiful, I can’t wait for part 5!

  5. This is beautiful. I love how you hate the doctor, how you want to whisper to all those trying to help you to just, go. Leave me alone to this emptiness. I know.

  6. I feel like I am there in the room with you. The hate, the love, the desire to run. Jen, so well written. So poignant. So, well, everything. I think you need to write this as a novel. Truly.

    • Hi Leanne, I’m a poet at heart (and by training). It’s so hard for me to do the long form–even this feels like a huge, difficult stretch. Can I write a 20 page book? :) But thank you so much for the compliment! I really appreciate it.

    • Alison, Please tell me you are eating a cupcake with your feet up while reading this! Thank you so much for walking the road (reading the road?) with me. XO

  7. Wonderful writing. Lyrical. I mean that. I’m not a fan of gushing – unless it’s warranted. It is here. And not because of the content. Speaking of the content – when I read stories like yours I always wonder how I would handle it, and how would my guy handle it. Of course you never know. What I do know is that you are remarkable, and your husband. And I hope if I ever face anything like this I’ll deal with it with aplomb as you have. And then I’ll turn into the hilariously funny chick that you are! You make me laugh, a lot.

  8. There are a million things I want to say to you. I don’t know how I missed these posts. How they must have come in a time in which I was just marking my RSS feed as done because life was too in the way. How I just read all four with bated breath. Waiting for something to jump out and scream at me “she’s going to be okay!” I hope you will. I hope the IVF will be successful. The chemo will work. The wedding will be gorgeous and you radiant. That your life will continue with as much beauty as your words. I will keep hoping. xoxo

  9. What do I say about this that hasn’t already been said?
    My favorite line is this one, “For a moment I want to be very small and climb up his solid body to his broad shoulders and whisper go, go.” I can feel this, all of this.
    You, my friend, are gifted and a gift.

  10. It’s amazing to me how vivid the smallest of details become during stress, anxiety, and tragedy. I remember every single wrinkle and dent on the wall when we found out Cort’s dad had cancer. I remember that moony beach scene of terror when we had the ultrasound that said that what was there was not anymore.

    I thought it was just me.

    also? ee cummings springs in my mind often.

    very. often.

    this series is wonderfully heartbreaking and yet…joyous because I know the narrator is also the author.

  11. I love reading this knowing everything turned out ok. Did I tell you yet my oldest daughter/stepdaughter works for the Moffitt Cancer Center in its department that focuses on preservation of reproductive options? Reading this post not only made me a) in awe of the translucent way you wrote it and b) hurt for you but it also c) made me proud she does what she does.

  12. The latest stop on this journey is breathtaking. I look forward to coming out of the valley and the shadows because this is not just a story, it’s your life, but I imagine we have a ways to go. I will try to read the next installments in a much more timely fashion. Ellen

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