Cancer and poetry

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology Social Work

JUNE 10, 2019

Man JournalingOver the past months, I have been fortunate enough to work with Steve Cadwell and his wonderful husband, Joe. Steve was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor last spring, and is doing quite well with ongoing treatment. A retired social worker who closed his practice immediately after the diagnosis, he is an incredibly thoughtful and creative poet, performer, musician, filmmaker, and man. Musing on his profession, he wrote: "Turns out therapy is like falling in love. It's about the relationship! All relationships have a beginning, a middle, and an end. So does therapy."

How privileged I am to share this important relationship with him.

He recently published a second book of poetry, called poeMEMoir, Volume 2, Hope Springs Eternal, and was enthusiastic about the idea of my writing a blog about his work. A comment on the back of the book from Laura Kastner, PH.D. says this: "These poems are gorgeous. People who have not gone through this process themselves or with patients/friends need these; Steve's poems capture so much: Love, surrender, protest, withdrawal, embrace, resist, collapse, attach, grateful, soaring, swooning, and so very alive…We all have our turn."

Any of us who are living through or beyond cancer know well that we have our turn. Reading these poems is a poignant and glorious reminder of our living and our dying.

Here is one of my favorites:

Master Class

Me: Play on the life-death continuum,
Play the divide.
Empowered: Still on this side!

He: It's ok not to live there all the time…
But you be the judge to call it.
Boring one note: If this is all there is to say,

Me: Really? Religions are founded on this threshold…
Ought to be able to collect a few poems for a good read.
Plum depths for all its worth at this threshold.
It is a crucial scene: the Exit.
Last session (unless there is a call-back).

He: Don't let it be your fulltime job.
Me: Oh? Yeah? How?
He: Live your life. Like a puppy, the cancer insists on attention.
Me: No! More like a rattlesnake!
Contain it (Remember containment is Love).
He: Live your life—not get taken over and defined by it.
Me: Play it out! OUT!
He: Death will take care of itself.
Me: Not so easy, man…Takes a lot of participation to pull off a good one.
Extend the scene…claim the time for it.
Perform-enhance. Rehearse. Contain it in the repetition, in the recitation, and then Move On.
Enliven life.
The art of living. The art of dying.

Have you written poems or journaled or chronicled your cancer experience? Share your story

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.