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Turning Cancer Upside Down

How we deal with our cancer may be a matter of perspective.
PUBLISHED January 15, 2019
Khevin Barnes is a Male Breast Cancer survivor, magician and speaker. He is currently writing, composing and producing a comedy stage musical about Male Breast Cancer Awareness. He travels wherever he is invited to speak to (and do a little magic for) men and women about breast cancer.

There are days when this constant tugging at what was formerly my left breast bothers me. After four years of living with male breast cancer I am, for the most part, able to carry on without spending a lot of time focusing on my discomfort. But I am reminded every day of cancer. Whenever I'm tired, stressed or sore from the physical activity I enjoy daily, I can feel that nagging tightness in my chest.

And I think that's because I still experience my cancer as a progressive element in my life that has followed me daily, like an incessant shadow, since that phone call on May 11, 2014 when I received the bad news.

It seems like we measure our disease by the days that have passed since our diagnosis. But as we move ever closer to our next MRI or chemotherapy with results unknown, our focus can be sidetracked. But of course, it's this very unknowing that makes survival such a murky endeavor. So, what can be done?

I used to think ahead to my next checkup or ultrasound appointment that I had circled on my calendar, silently counting the days, and being held "captive" in a sense by the anxiety and uneasiness I felt. Then it occurred to me to count backwards.

So now, instead of counting the days until my next checkup to find out if I have a recurrence of cancer or not, I count backwards from my check-up date to today's date, relishing the days I have to live "cancer free" until I find out more. It's a simple, and you may even think illogical way to live, but to me, even the subtle, uncomplicated steps we take in our life with cancer can make a difference.

It makes sense to me look at that time we have between checkups as a "count-up" to wellness, rather than a "countdown" to a possible return of my breast cancer.

While I was thinking about all of this, I discovered an amazing style of poetry that I've never heard of. It's called "reverse" or "mirror" poetry. I was delighted to find a number of versions on the internet. The idea is that you read the poem from beginning to end, and then read it backwards. It's not clear where the idea for this odd sort of writing began, but it's a tribute to human ingenuity and a reminder that there's more than one way to look at the world around us – especially when that world includes a diagnosis of cancer.

So I gave it a shot and attempted to write one of these unconventional poems myself.

I will die of cancer
And I simply don't believe that
my life is destined to go on.
after all the treatments have been tried
There's no more to be done.
I won't pretend
there's much more that I can do.
You can be very sure
that cancer is an unbeatable villain.
And I don't believe for one dark moment
I'll survive this lonely battle

(Now read the lines from the bottom up for another view)


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