Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Searching for Chemo poems

I notice that a lot of visitors are stopping by in search for "Chemo poems." I've written a poem or two that discusses my treatment for cancer, but I haven't published them yet. If you would like to read them, I'd be willing to send them to you via email. Just ask.

If you are interested in reading poems that talk about the experience of cancer I can only suggest Donald Hall's "Without." The poems are about his wife (and poet) Jane Kenyon's struggle with Leukemia. "Her Long Illness" discusses her chemo treatment:

Her Long Illness by Donald Hall

Daybreak until nightfall,
he sat by his wife at the hospital
while chemotherapy dripped
through the catheter into her heart.
He drank coffee and read
the Globe. He paced; he worked
on poems; he rubbed her back
and read aloud. Overcome with dread,
they wept and affirmed
their love for each other, witlessly,
over and over again.
When it snowed one morning Jane gazed
at the darkness blurred
with flakes. They pushed the IV pump
which she called Igor
slowly past the nurses' pods, as far
as the outside door
so that she could smell the snowy air.

Kenyon's own poem "The Sick Wife," included in her Collected, also deals with her illness.

You might also try Ted Kooser's poem "At the Cancer Clinic"

(an excerpt)

. . .The sick woman
peers from under her funny knit cap
to watch each foot swing scuffing forward
and take its turn under her weight.
There is no restlessness or impatience
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace
fills the clean mold of this moment
and all the shuffling magazines grow still.

I don't know though why you are searching for these poems. I don't know that they would be a comfort for you if you are dealing with cancer or are a caretaker of a person who is struggling with cancer. Perhaps they might help you feel less alone as you go through what I can only describe as a surreal experience, and a lonely one. I felt and still feel at a loss when people ask how I am, or how I feel because I'm never sure how "real" they'd like the answers to be. Mostly everyone just pretends that it didn't happen. And I pray that it won't happen again.

The courses of chemo that I had during treatment took me to the edge of what I could endure. The last of the rounds, the last hours in the hospital were trying not because of just physical conditions, (the nausea, the overwhelming odor of the hospital which aggravated my nausea, the inability to eat even the most basic of food) but also because of the emotional and mental strain caused by the anxiety of being diagnosed with cancer, the needles and IVs which were a constant companion, and the complete invasion of privacy and lack of dignity that occurs when you are hospitalized. I have only been able to write a few poems because the emotion is still too raw, I still feel sick to my stomach if I think of being in that hospital room. I get anxious thinking about the next scan and the chance that it may belie my feeling of health and healing. I dread having to go back through those doors to have my blood drawn and the port that runs to my heart accessed.

I am lucky, though, I am still here to write this to you. May you be as blessed.


Robert said...

Thanks for this. Fascinating that there is such a need in time of crisis for poetry that it registers on your search logs.

Amy Unsworth said...


This is a link to Anthony Hecht's poem "The Transparent Man" and the speaker of the poem is a man with Leukemia.

Robert, thanks for stopping by. I often wonder why people are searching and if they are disappointed when they arrive. I thought I'd post a few poems that have meant something to me.