Till Death

It is a cloudy, saturated Saturday but within
pious church walls, the merriment spills out.
Gentlemen on show with crimson, lavender and Salmon ties;
Ladies with gemstone earrings, ruby necklaces.
I am squeezed in a centre of jovial chatter,
a celebratory crowd awaiting the festivities.
All happiness, yet in my mind the wrong note tingles.

At the chapel door, congrats are shared;
cheesy kiss on the cheek for her, boisterous handshake for him.
A flash of cameras captures buoyant smiles.
Later, the best man delivers a waggish speech
before all raise a glass to honour a wondrous marriage.
I slip away as the bride and groom get groovy to a love song.

Another summer weekend, a sapphire Sunday
but there’s a chill in the air.
Word travels through tears and tongue-tied phone calls.
Chiefless tribe sit, compressed in her cottage,
Some exchange lines of polite conversation,
even the odd cry of laughter leaks out to free the tension.
Rosary beads, pious relics lay lonely again.

In a line they trudge,
sorry for your troubles handshakes
walk in walk out with true sincerity,
yet cheerful chatter from outside is breaking in.
The family formats around her coffin
where she seems so peaceful.

I slip away into the evening,
my eyes moist.

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Escaping Nyctophobia

When I leaped into my mother’s embrace, terror streamed out of me. Her fingers combed through my curls, she the beacon which chased away my fear. She soon soothed shock out of me. Then gently gripped my hands and became my Sherpa through the tenebrous halls. Going through the gloomy living room I trudged over blooming clothes pegs and crayons which had helped create my imaginary world. Mother switched on my room light. I jumped into bed as the yellow glare dazzled me, before the blackness fell. 

I’ll be with you till light returns, she whispered. Together we watched the darkness slip away. I felt the grip of her finger slowly loosen; glancing up, my fears were lost as I caught that gentle smile. I still dream of it today. Love shining over me. 

I don’t remember her leaving. In my sleep, she stayed a gallant guardian through the night.

Red Light Seizure

It’s a whirling tornado.
As when brain gives body no choice
the world starts spinning.

Fuzzy.
Now an onlooker, as it briskly
but meticulously wrings every nerve of
a corpse-like body.

A gentle pin bursts blindly,
spirals down the spine,
touches the outlying peninsulas
of my toes.

15 to 30 seconds estimated length.
The heart pumps its pacy rhythm.
But mind crawls, primitive.

Amber lights flash, and you
a watching ghost.

To Wake Alone

Whispered Words

A falling star catches many eyes.
Do not exceed eight in twenty-four hours
reads the packet he holds in quivering hands.
He, one more elderly statistic,
stares at a mute TV which screams breaking news.
He turns away, his gaze on his fingers
as the paper packet glides open.

The kettle boils a third time –
teapot cold, empty, he’s not ready yet to stir,
he pictures his future
all colours changed, all plans in the past.
The two phones keep trilling out,
one a marching song, the other vibrates on bedside table.
As he sits, he feels the cells in his blood begin to cool.
Answer the call, he tells himself,
but does not move.

He knows one is ringing
for the final time.
The facts won’t change
if the calls are answered,
they can all read the text:
Your mother’s slipped away.

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The Listener

Our silver giant approached me,
tottering along, his tail slowly wagging.
He too had lost his speed, that greyhound gallop.
I had gone to a councillor,
He had talked too much.

I welcomed with gentle path,
Before softly brushing fingers through his greying hair.
That was the payment,
For my words to escape.
He watched on with those coffee brown eyes, inviting my problems..

Often for a half an hour or more,
He would listen to my mind’s mutterings.
No comments made, no answers given.
Just what I needed.

And when all was out,
When my heavy mood moved off,
The silver giant tottered away
With his tail slowly wagging.

Poetry: The Mask

The Mask

‘When all this is over,
can I take it out at Halloween?’
His laugh was hollow.
Did he catch my humour?

‘I’ll place the mould down, okay?’
Saliva gushed between my teeth,
‘Okay,’ I said.
‘Stay silent. Stay still,’ he ordered.

Soft plastic entrapped me,
danced upon my lips,
trickled along the bridge of my nose,
slowly aged and hardened.

I tried to still my beating heart.
Second by second,
it grew more solid,
more cold.

Minutes passed.
I listened to him breathe,
imagined his eyes guarding, imprisoning.
My mouth became a Sahara.

Did I need to cough?
Christ, I couldn’t!
Mercy, please, wait till it’s over,
when he removes the mask.

More info:

I wrote the above poem during my MA in Writing in 2016/17. It was about the kind of mask that was created to help with the Radiotheraphy I would undergo after the brain surgery I had in 2013. It was these things where I was allowed to express an experience and only I for certain knew what it was about.

To Wake Alone

A falling star catches many eyes.
Do not exceed eight in twenty-four hours
reads the packet he holds in quivering hands.
He, one more elderly statistic,
stares at a mute TV which screams breaking news.
He turns away, his gaze on his fingers
as the paper packet glides open.

The kettle boils a third time –
teapot cold, empty, he’s not ready yet to stir,
he pictures his future
all colours changed, all plans in the past.
The two phones keep trilling out,
one a marching song, the other vibrates on bedside table.
As he sits, he feels the cells in his blood begin to cool.
Answer the call, he tells himself,
but does not move.

He knows one is ringing
for the final time.
The facts won’t change
if the calls are answered,
they can all read the text:
Your mother’s slipped away.

Here I Go Again

Here I go again… I have always loved that Whitesnake song.

The song title relates to how I feel at the moment, a day before I start chemotherapy for the second time. Yes, the second time is different, I guess that’s normal. I’ve been less nervous and likewise, members of my family are definitely less worried.

And yet, a day before I take them chemo capsules again, a few of them old nerves return, politely walk back into my life. Everything must go right again.

I got a call earlier today from a woman with the same brain tumour. She often rings. They diagnosed her with “It” last summer and she is about to go on her last monthly dose. I remember when she first rang; I was so confident, not in a bad way, but a good “this can be beaten way”, but what I noticed in today’s chat is that my confidence and optimism in the call had lowered—down not gone. Maybe I understood her worries better today.

I feel confidence may have dropped because everything at the moment seems tougher, and hence it’s harder to escape from negativity. Like, Covid has us all locked in and unable to live life to the full and distract ourselves both from minor and major problems—can’t meet friends, can’t go on days out with family, can’t go on trips abroad (I went on holiday outside Ireland for the first time while on chemo last time, back in 2014). I miss distraction.

Then there are Hospital trips, where appointments seem full of tension now. Nobody smiles there anymore (Masks are emotionless). The doctors and nurses, understandable, want you in and out as fast as possible. Also, patients must visit alone and there is no time for any soft, confidence-building conversation—it’s all straight to the point. And worse of all (On a lighter note) there are no trips to coffee shops afterwards for a treat.

I guess what I am attempting to say, is I never fully acknowledged how important the little things are, like meetups with friends where nobody is going to mention “it” or a bite to eat at a new coffee shop. The simple moments were great escapism.

I’m talking about me, chemo and the battle with cancer, but all of us have different issues and I feel today these problems are a tougher test for us all with that covid!

Please, let us beat Covid soon! Let life return to what things were like in 2019 – where we just complain about the normal things! Nobody needed another problem.

SECOND TIME AROUND

It’s almost a month to the day that I went for my second brain surgery. I would later learn that the tumour found that day was once more Glioblastoma (GBM) Grade 4. I knew the tumour was likely going to be grade 4 again, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t hoping it was Grade 2—like my surgeon had believed it could be when he met my family and me over a year prior when new growth had been discovered.

“Abnormally slow growth” is what my surgeon said when announcing the results of the sample of brain tissue sent for lab testing

What does the lab technician who tests the sample think when they learn the result?  The confirmation that a patient has cancer with a survival rate median of 14.4 months. I hope they say “Bummer” or “Poor fecker”; if they did, I’d probably reply, “Ah don’t worry sure I’ve had GBM  7 years. I like the word “abnormal”. Yes, I like being credited as “Abnormal” anybody could be abnormal. That, and it helps to deal with this continuous cancer battle. It helps me tell myself not to worry…too much.

Whenever I decide to write these blog posts, I generally try to be positive bar a few pieces, of course. Hence, I hope I see another seven years or maybe more. Many people have had grade 4 Brain tumour like mine and have been “abnormal” and hence survived 20, 25 years and in some cases more.

STAYING POSITIVE

I believe staying positive is always an important factor for all cancer fighters. And with that thought what would help our positivity is when a person Google’s GBM the search results mention some better GBM results or even some long-time survivors. Or maybe search engines should have a positive results option?  I ask this because when googling my cancer, the search results seem all negative.

APPLE/ BANANNA

On a lighter note, in recent times I’ve talked to other GBM survivors about tumour size, one guy said he was told his tumour was the size of an apple, coincidently mine was said to be that size too. Another, I talked to said she was told hers was the size of a golf ball. Hence, of late, I have begun to question these sizes. My reason for this questioning is mainly because my tumour in MRI’s has looked nothing like an apple — if anything, mine is like a Fairtrade banana (Off-topic but always support fair trade if you can). But sure, look beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.

Anyhow, on Monday I’ll be having a phone meeting (Odd times, eh?) with my oncologist on what treatment I might or might not receive. I know that my surgeon believes no further action is needed at this moment. However, I feel my oncologist may have a different view. I’ll just have to wait and see.

So, I might end this here, like the great Cork sports presenter, Bill O’ Herlihy would say: “We’ll leave it there so. Okeydoke.”

PS. A song for all cancer battlers…

What to like this week

Do you remember when I use to write The Alternative 5 A DAY piece on here? Of course you do…I use to always include a new artist or a new album. Well, Cam, an American country singer, new album The Otherside would be my choice of the week this week—if I still wrote The Alternative 5 A DAY.

I personally love her new songs; so maybe take a listen to some of her new work below, cause maybe you will like them too?

The below track the Otherside was co-wrote with Tim Bergling (aka Avicii).

Possibly my favourite track in the new album, the song was co-wrote with Harry Styles.

Oh, wait maybe this is my favourite is Diane….

Oh, damn so country pop… What can I say, a classic and so catchy.

Just A Little Weirder Than Odd