Cathy Coley

Untangle

a morning glory vine wrapped around a sunflower stem with one pink bloom

a morning glory vine wrapped around a sunflower stem, with one pink bloom

Untangle

Andrew built a wooden frame for privacy.

I planted morning glory seeds and sunflower seeds

to fill the space between us and neighbors.

It’s past Midsomer. The sunflowers stand happy sentinels,

as delicate vines begin to wind and climb to strangle them, unaware.

I spent a good part of the morning unwinding the precious threads

from the sunflower stalks they chose

to entangle around instead of the posts of the frame.

I wound the long vines around the wood frame.

The morning glories are lovely and few,

and too delicate for human touch

as they furl in their open selves toward noon.

It’s too hot in the midday humid sun

for me to try to untangle, and I have so much more

Useful things to do.

The precious vines I unwind have me

metaphoring to my cancer,

and how the surgeon, oncologist, pathologist

are trying to untangle

any remaining invisible cells

from my lymph nodes.

The two that held cancer

beyond the hard tumor in my breast,

my surgeon calls sentinel nodes,

gatekeepers.

My eldest son laughs

and compares the nodes

to a videogame sacrifice.

The gatekeepers are sacrificed

so the rest of the troops

can prepare for a defensive attack.

I'm trying to untangle all the medical

and financial information in a system

that commodifies my life as a sacrifice,

if we can’t pay

for the surgeries to cut the tumor and nodes out;

for the chemotherapy to air raid bomb

any infiltrating cancer cells out;

for the radiation after chemo,

just in case they find a single holdout in a hidden bunker

after all that residual damage is done.

I try to untangle how my daughters’

education won’t be sacrificed during this pandemic.

She can’t attend school or ride a bus,

a sacrificial lamb to a slaughter.

Since the governor can’t decide yet,

I decided for my child, for myself,

and family health.

Options are available beyond a classroom

full of covid and a myriad other disease vectors.

I untangled the pandemic from my cancer,

and the chemotherapy

that will wipe out my immune system,

like America bombs the Middle East.

The same philosophy behind both:

If we wipe it all out, maybe we’ll

get the bad guys: ISIS, cancer.

But how do I untangle the idea of destroying

what is supposed to protect me

on the off-chance a few cancer cells

may still float around in

undetermined corners of my body?

But morning glories aren’t cancer.

And sunflowers aren’t protecting us

from anymore than maybe a curious glance

or a stray hello.

The delicate lacy vines are precious

and carry beauty that changes

with the sun to protect itself

as it clings on for dear life.

I protect them both, with care,

the bowing strong, tall sunflowers,

and their delicate and dangerous

neighbor morning glories.

First draft 7/14/20

updated: 2 months ago

Cthulu Boob

Cthulu Boob

I received the call from the doctor yesterday and heard what I needed in his voice. The mass is cancerous but it’s low grade, and the lymph node biopsy was negative, so far it seems. There is another wonky lymph node, he’ll get a better look when he removes the mass. Next Tuesday is the pathology report appointment and we will figure out how to proceed from there. I’m in a much better place than I was before and through the wait until the call. I was doing quality of life planning, from how the doctor and the prior screenings’ doctor and tech were acting. Everyone was very nice, but there’s a tonal change in voice, a quickening of pace of a mammo spot check technician, a quieting of a chatty sonogram tech, a level of vocal concern and eyes from the attending radiologist who immediately swooped into the room. I’m an extremely empathetic person, and as much as they were professional and tried to conceal, I read the rooms easily.

I’ve been through so much in my life already, and this is just another detour, through a pandemic. Any plans I ever made have had the wooden rickety detour sign thrown up in its path. As my friends Jeannine and Rose said, “yeah, but this is the crapola detour.” That was before yesterday’s call, that what we are looking at will likely be highly effectively treatable.

I’m grateful for a support cohort of close friends from throughout my life in four different states who have my back, who will make me laugh, and allow me to laugh at the ridiculousness of my tumble down a staircase - screw mixed metaphors - that has always been. I have another in another country who has come out the other side of another female cancer. I have dubbed her my Cancer Rollercoaster Buddy Tour Guide. I can’t tell you how much it means that I have all of their support and her extremely no bullshit responses to my questions.

I have many other friends and relatives who are being notified by this post. I’m a little concerned about a coming flood of sympathy responses. I know it’s coming from a loving place, but I’m not sure I can handle all of that, I need to keep a lot of this close to home among the main cohort.

So for now, on top of my usual chronic pain issues, special needs spawn management, pandemic distance learning for one of them, we add the Cthulhu Boob, because it looks like I’m growing a baby Cthulhu in there. And if I can’t laugh my way through cancer, why the hell am I even here?

I made a T-shirt last week that grew out of another conversation Jeannine and I had that sums up how we react in the pandemic, to my own extraordinary circumstances, and our political landscape at this time: Cheerful Nihilist. I’ll laugh like a hyena if I have to, I kind of do anyway, and this is how I always get by.

Thanks for stopping by, hope all is well in your covid nightmare.

Love and monkeys,

Cath

updated: 4 months ago