Narrated by Heather A Davis
I. When you’re so sick you can’t hold your head up but the doctor finally listens, tells you that you’ve had thyroid cancer for five years and you rage and scream the world down around you When you’re swallowing a pill full of radiation in a hospital room next to one of the kindest men you’ve ever met, a hospital worker, who holds your hand and is crying because he has the same thyroid cancer When they say this is the ‘good’ cancer even though others are dying from it, yet they’ve just issued guidance against life-saving neck checks When you become a pre-existing condition When you go to a lawyer to draw up your will and power of attorney, then go to the cemetery to pick out your burial plot as you put away the thought that you’re too young for this II. When you lose almost every friend because they’re scared of what’s happening to you and don’t understand your erratic emotions or they’re sick of hearing how sick you are but you don’t blame them because you want to run as far away from this as you can, too When you avoid email and all social media, but hand-write letters to former friends, lovers, to thank them for their kindness for the good things they did for you, but you leave off your return address and you don’t tell them you have cancer because it’s too painful to think about them not writing back When you lie on the floor every night, begging, pleading, bargaining for your life with a God you’re so afraid of, who you believe is punishing you or teaching you a ‘lesson’ and you’re too afraid to utter a bad word, think a bad thought, do a bad deed, give a bad look to another human being, because if you do the right thing, it will all go away III. When your surgeon chooses to leave a small remnant of the tumor and doesn’t have to cut your vocal cord nerve that would take away your ability to speak When you’ve fought so long against the ‘cult of positivity’ and you have to face the impact hope can have because despair is a great redeemer When you finally find a support group, who show you that you’re not alone, who know exactly what you’re going through, who encourage you every day to arrest your falling apart, and you understand that your anxiety is too high from chemicals controlling the imbalance, but your endocrine system starts to level out with the right medication so that in time, you can do the same for others IV. When you finally listen to your colleagues and start that PhD and the professors are willing to take a chance on you; you decide you’ll show up for your life just like they are showing up for your life When you write for the first time Over the next five years… When you’re walking, dancing, moving and start to really feel the miracle of chemistry and movement, that numinous connection, which nothing else can produce When for the first time in your life, you know your body is not the enemy and when you’re lying on the floor in the darkness with only the cats around you, but now thanking God and you start to feel there is love, and you can no longer go, even a second, without being plugged into that love and joy and peace When you reconcile that no matter what happens or whatever you did or whatever you ate or drank or for that matter what you didn’t, that it’s not your fault you have cancer When you can think of the future, take risks, go back into the world again, and start meeting amazing people— doctors, nurses, teachers, politicians, journalists, secretaries, cleaners, farm workers, artists— who are working for healthcare rights because they’re just like you and you raise your voice with theirs because you still have a voice and you’re not going down without a fight when there is so much and there are so many to fight for and you see life ahead
(A prose version of this poem was previously published in VISUALIZE HEALTH EQUITY: A Community Art Project http://nam.edu/visualizehealthequity/#/artwork/8)
BIO: Heather A Davis is a writer and healthcare activist, and is currently pursuing her PhD in Human Geography / Health Inequities at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a dual US/UK national, born and raised in the Knoxville area. She lived, studied and worked in Baltimore and Scotland for many years. Her work has appeared in the Knoxville Mercury and the National Academy of Medicine’s Visualize Health Equity community art permanent online gallery. She won first place (while a second piece was a finalist) for Literary Short Fiction in the 2017 Autumn Contest (Knoxville Writers’ Guild). She currently resides in Knoxville, TN.