Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

CHEMO LOVE by Donna Williams


I was 47 years old in June 2011 when I found a lump in my left breast. It was the size of an almond and I felt certain it was just another cyst like the other two lumps which had already made homes in my breast. Chris was in hospital dealing with a gall bladder catastrophe for three grueling weeks. I was so busy worrying whether and when he’d be home again, snuggling with my man with his drain tubes and urine bottles, his bare body in the hospital gowns I found so frightening, that I didn’t tell him about the lump. Mostly, I couldn’t even really tell me yet. It was once he came home, rehabilitating, the last of his drain tubes out, clear he was going to be safe. Then I said ‘can you feel this?’ The following Monday I was at the GP. Within a week I was having a mammogram. A week later a biopsy. A week later mastectomy. Three weeks later chemo. Three months later Chris and I emerged from the chemo journey and I had my second mastectomy. This is a telling of that 2011 tale. I hope it gives readers hope and belonging.

(photo by Gavin Halpin)
Once I was breasted

Invested, in a body that snuggly fitted
society… and clothing
the defining of ‘woman’.

My bra, I’d earned when I was thirteen,
adorned without thought…
‘daily life’…
routine without question
or cast off with playful freedom.

My breasts,
‘just right’,
eternally mine.
I’d grown into them.
They’d grown on me.
We were attached.

The cleavage I had hidden
and had displayed
in different histories
and transitions.

My nipples,
artistic in composition,
erogenous, hard wired,
weather barometers
arousal barometers,
they would speak to me
as bodies do.

(photo by Chris Samuel)

I’m naked in here, in this homogeneous gown
small wee spirit, like a mouse in a hole, hiding
from a word, from a world
from a place I never chose to go.

Friendly coats, studious hands
They’re dressed and I’m naked
They have real lives, on track
I’m losing mine, derailed

Squeezed like clay, squeezed like dough
sandwiched between glass… click, click
Just another thirty seconds
Hold your breath, hold your breath

and they don’t tell you
you will hold your breath for days,
then weeks, then months, then years

For you are the caterpillar
this is your first step to metamorphosis.
Mammogram, mommagram, would like to send a telegram
the girl with no mother weeps without tears

And they can’t tell you anything.
But the faceblind girl knows
its written on the technician’s body
it worms its way into her tone of voice
the essential kindness that steps up in volume
and the kindness shouts
it shouts… I’m sorry…yes… it’s cancer.
Contemplation, by Donna Williams
That awkward moment…

between the concepts of life and death
Condemned or blessed,
we sat armed with bowls of soup
across the wide ocean of a cafe table
the reaper present at the table

we poured him no tea, but you could see him there
see him reflected in our eyes, in our fallen bodies, in our defeat.

Then, suddenly like fairy dust, I caught the magic
raised my arms and danced joyously in celebration.

For I was very much alive
and cancer was only a word
and a word could not kill me, not today.

And right then, right there
today was all that mattered
and today was all I had to get through
and all I had to share, and live, yes live, to the full.

Decisions … too heavy, too many, too sudden.
Emotions, nostalgia, investment, attachment,
Ego and patterning, culture and training….
Dresses accused me of ingratitude, bras accused me of treason.
Body pleaded for its life
Logic came in like a knight on a horse,
sword at the ready, to battle, to battle,
… whatever it takes.

(photo by Chris Samuel)
The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room…
was ever present
never forgotten
and changing our lives.

We sat small and huddled
awaiting the theatre
for the show of my life

In their costumes, with their props
the surgeon, anesthetist, nurses
lights, camera, action.

Sign Here
I signed her away,
launching her like a ship,
casting her adrift,
her and her tumor.

Farewell to the breast that would never answer a phone,
drive a car, open a door, carry the shopping.
Fifty-fifty was not my kind of odds.
And the OCD woman would embrace
the tormenting absence of symmetry.

(photo by Chris Samuel)
Chemo world

Step right up, step right up, greatest ride in the show
Signed away my left breast, so I’d now skip radio…
But alas, not a chance, for that breast had a surprise
that under 3 cm tumor, was more than 3 cm in size.

There was nothing to radiate, but an over 3 cm girl
would now herself be swept away into dreaded chemo world.

(photo by Chris Samuel)
Heading to Mars

It takes a lot to get to Mars
a special base from which to launch
a protocol for the dangerous mission…

“my job is to take you as close to death as possible
without actually killing you” said the Oncologist
with words heavy with honesty
with words powerful and daring
with words that threw the gauntlet
that offered the mission
that stated the facts.

But the tumor was gone, gone like… like the wind…
gone… like a ‘dust bunny’ under a bed…
solid at its heart, fluffy at its edges…

and I remembered dandelions gone to seed…
pusteblume… ‘blow-flowers’…
and how, held in hand, bits would fly away
like the cells of a cancer tumor
flying away into my lymph and my blood stream
dormant, duplicating
my immune-system-guards chewing gum, filing their nails
leaving cancer cells to form new tumors
somewhere out there.

Chemo… ok… bring it on
I’m going into the jungle armed with weedkiller
to find stray pusteblume seeds
and stop them planting themselves
making cancer flowers.

(photo by Chris Samuel)
Life on Mars

They looked like massage chairs
The place looked like a beauty salon
The nurses preened, tidy, good coloring
The customers greyed, yellowish,
bald and balding, bloated and bony
faces of fear, faces of hope,
faces lost in magazines,
faces chatting like another day at the office.

Finding a vein, fresh arms, no bruises
a customer crying, used arms, black and blue
dead veins, no white cells, no chemo, go home
harrowed eyes, lost hope
new kids on the block
scared of ‘those people with cancer’
and now we were those people.

She laughed in my face
bold, gritty, yellowed, bony,
weekly chemo, metastatic
stretching time like an old elastic band
which would ultimately break
but for now… for now…
one more week, one more month, maybe a year

“Scared of people with cancer?”
She had never heard anything so stupid.
And I laughed with her, let my fear go
seeing her in the disguise of the bag of bones
getting it… as the cell murdering chemo filled my veins
turning me yellow, bloated, out of it, for the good fight.
Count Me In by Donna Williams

(photo by Chris Samuel)
Into The Arms of Trust

As I fell into the arms of trust
life gently lifted the reigns from my tired hands
and I shed my mortality
just like the myth of Santa Claus
and I shed my certainty of tomorrows,
celebrating each today,
and I shed my vanity and indoctrination,
to find new meanings of womanhood
I shed my assumptions and control
and trusted those dedicated to my care

and as my fingernails turned brown
and my autonomics went haywire
and my white cells under siege
and every bodily hair shedding from its roots
I saw my naked ape self, raw and uncomplicated
vulnerable and enduring.

(photo by Jingru Li)

We held hands, like lovers lost at night in a forest
We made love like there was no tomorrow,
just in case there wasn’t
We laughed, at ourselves, at life, at tragedy.
We listened, to breathing, and to silence,
and to the beating of our hearts.
We swam in the pools of each other’s eyes,
and held hands like scared children.
We felt the tides of drama and ego,
of martyrdom and posturing,
and kept to the path.
And we emerged from the journey,
comrades who had been to battle and come home.

In Sept 2016 I learned I was part of the 30% of breast cancer patients whose cancer returns. My breast cancer treated in 2011 had become metastatic and spread to my liver and spine. A week later I began chemotherapy for innumerable tumors to my liver. Metastatic cancer is not a curable situation. Weekly chemo for what will be the rest of my life merely extends the time one has. In January 2017 I learned my chemo drug had stopped working. In knew then this was my last year and that, for me, it would be a ‘short year’.

(Photo by Gavin Halpin) Thank you all for allowing me to share my life with you all in so very many ways. You gave me purpose, passion, belief in myself, you stretched my skills, and often collectively your belief in me since 1991 made me into a greater teacher, consultant, artist, person. I cannot thank the world enough for all it allowed me to share with it. It truly gave me ‘a life’.

Sincerely, Polly Samuel (aka ‘Donna Williams’)


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