Bland On Bland – Cancer

Photo By Jools Thatcher
Photo By Jools Thatcher

The theme for this week’s JVG Radio Method poem is “Cancer” (there was a benefit at the Lomond Hotel) Jon decided it would make  a good theme. I decided prose was a better choice than a poem. Let me know what you think.

Ed Bates is on the guitar duties this week

Play this poem directly in your browser! Just click the “play” button below:


“God, you look like ‘Angry’ Anderson” Renee squealed as Elly doffed her beret to reveal a smooth, shiny, newly shaved, pate.

“I was thinking more Gary Ablett” quipped Elly, feigning hurt.

“Not even Ablett on a bad day” came the reply

Chemotherapy had left Elly’s hair falling out in clumps – like an “Antique Teddy Bear” as Renee irreverently described it.

Irreverence was one of the things Elly loved most about Renee.

They had been friends since school – not close friends until recently, but always comfortable in one another’s company.

That friendship was now one of the most important things in Elly’s life.

A rare visit to the doctor for a flu jab, Elly mentioned in passing some minor discomfort – “Nothing much really, probably not worth worrying about.”

“Most likely”, her doctor agreed, “But best to be sure.”

A simple blood test – An appointment with a specialist? – An ultrasound? – A biopsy?


Don’t smoke, moderate drinker, fit, eat well, grandparents in their nineties … Cancer?

The shock, the wait, the surgery, chemo, side effects, the uncertainty …

Her doctor was cautiously optimistic and Elly felt positive – still it was hard to set aside the apprehension.

It was as though she had survived an earthquake and was unsure if she could ever trust the ground again.

Elly had learnt a lot about herself – her resilience and determination; what was important, who was important — and she’d learnt a lot about people – and they were really starting to piss her off!

All Elly wanted was things to stay as normal as possible – and it was proving a bigger challenge than the disease.

Her sister cried every time she visited.

Her mother insisted on cleaning, cooking and coddling; Elly was convinced she was trying to absorb her back into the womb.

Containers of chicken soup began to appear daily on her door step – What is it about illness and chicken soup?

Then there were the cards from near strangers offering their prayers.

All acts of kindness but it didn’t feel normal.

Some friends stayed away altogether.
“That’s fine with me” thought Elly, “Some people can’t cope with illness – at least I don’t have to deal with them”

Her ex husband, having fought for two years over every light globe and teaspoon in a protracted and bitter divorce settlement now wanted to know if there was anything he could do.

“Sure”, Elly, responded graciously – “You can put out the rubbish then keep walking.”

“I just want us to find peace” he pleaded

“No Shane, you need peace – I need the rubbish put out”

“There’s no point in fighting the world” her best friend Joanne reasoned.

“I don’t want to fight anyone” Elly answered firmly, “I’m just very clear about what I need”

“I don’t want pity and I don’t want sympathy – I can’t afford them.
I just want things to be as normal as possible”

One morning Elly bumped into a neighbour, Lorna Russell, at the gate.

“Are you on your way out dear?” Lorna enquired, before realising to her horror, the implication of her words, choking out an apology and scurrying away down the street.

“It’s okay Lorna” Elly muttered “I’ve lost my ovaries, not my fucking sense of humour”

Even at her local shops, head swathed in a paisley scarf purchased from the op shop for fifty cents, there were sideways glances, solemn nods and sombre whispers.

Col the butcher’s customary cheery greeting was replaced by a far more muted welcome – in fact he struggled to even make eye contact.

“You can speak above a hush Col, I’m not the bloody Dali Lama – and regardless, I still want 500 grams of diced lamb”

People weren’t being rude, well, not intentionally at least.
It was fear.

It was, decided Elly, as though they saw, in her, their own mortality, the randomness of this insidious disease and how potentially vulnerable we all are.

She wanted to shout to them “Hey, I’m one of the lucky ones – it was found before it spread right through my body”

Instead, she had a coffee and a slice of banana cake at the corner caf‚ before marching to the hairdressers and a rendezvous with the razor.

The scarf, she left hanging on the coat stand.

On her way home she dropped by the greengrocers to pick up some fruit.

“Your apples look a bit bruised and past it, Sammy”

“Looked at yourself lately Elly?” he replied with a grin.

“Yeah, but I’m not the thief charging six dollars a kilo”

“Tell you what, you can have two kilos for twelve dollars” Sam countered

“At last” Elly sighed “A touch of normality.”

© Copyright 2010 Ian Bland

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