CURE® recently announced the four winners of its inaugural poetry contest: Richard Strickland, Desiree LeRoy, Amy Smart and Dana Stewart.
Each winning poem tells a powerful story about the devastating effects of cancer – a cancer survivor grapples with the death of the oncologist and friend who treated his cancer; a woman shares text messages sent to her by a close friend with metastatic breast cancer who later died of the disease; a woman with breast cancer expresses the pain of losing her hair; and a survivor explains how cancer creeps into her therapy session even though many years have passed.
During interviews with CURE®, the winners shared information about the stories and feelings that inspired their poems.
“You know, I’m in tears even talking about it,” Strickland said. “And so I needed to find a way to express that and get it out of me and let others know what a tragedy it was.”
Strickland: It was a great irony for me. I had this good friend who ended up treating me for my leukemia. And then I went to visit him one day and he was bald, and he was in treatment for brain cancer. And then over a period of months, eventually, he was just gone. And I thought, “What a horrible loss for, you know, one of the best oncologists in the country to be floored himself.” And he treated me, and I’ve been in remission for seven years – it seems so unfair. And I went to a memorial service for him at his institution, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He was so admired and loved by all his colleagues. And I just, you know, it brings tears to my eyes just talking about it. And so I needed to find a way to express that and get it out of me and let others know what a tragedy it was.
The king : So I wrote the article a few months before learning about your competition, it had been a little over two years since my dear friend had died of metastatic breast cancer. And I think we all think we’re crying the right way, or we’re done, or you know, we’re fine. And then I decided to write the poem for online reading. And then from there it sort of evolved into a whole grieving process again. And so I brought his text messages to me, which I felt was the safest – which I revisit from time to time – and turned them into a piece, then added my own thoughts, which were the hardest because I hadn’t done it yet.
Clever: I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in March of this year – complete surprise and shock, considering my age and lack of family history and so on. And honestly, one of the very first things that came to mind was, “Oh, no, I’m going to lose my hair.” I’ve always, all my life, had long, dark, thick hair. I was known as ‘Amy with the long hair.’ It has been a very big part of my identity. So losing my hair was a very big fear for me. And people who haven’t been there have made me feel like it’s no big deal, losing your hair is no big deal. You get the, “It’s going to grow back. It’s just hair, that’s okay. There are so many other important things to worry about. And these people weren’t trying to be mean or something like that. They were trying to be supportive and helpful. But as I went through the journey and felt my own feelings and talked to other women who have been through, I realized it wasn’t just me that felt this. Losing your hair, especially as a woman and having it become a huge part of who you are, is a really big deal. t’s the first outward sign that you’re sick. I mean, other than losing my hair and my eyebrows and such, I look healthy, I act healthy. You couldn’t really tell otherwise unless I tell you I had cancer. So that was really the inspiration. I just wanted to express my feelings and help people who try to help me understand what I’m going through.
Stewart: So I was diagnosed about 11 years ago with breast cancer at the age of 32. It was a shock. So after going through that and then once I was done with the treatment, I felt like everyone was like, “Great, you can get your life back.” And I had no idea what that meant. So I was really, really struggling with anxiety and realized after a few years that I needed help to get out of it, because I just wasn’t recovering from the emotional side of cancer. . So I went to therapy, (and) I’m still in therapy. And I was inspired by just sitting on that couch in a therapy session, and going through all the emotions and anxiety and talking about it. And I kind of felt like every time I tried to talk about how I felt, the cancer anxiety seeped in. So I felt like he was still sitting right next to me on the couch and he wanted to talk his say, and I was like, “It’s my time.” That’s kind of how I was inspired to write “The Couch” and just talk about this therapy and my PTSD with cancer.
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