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Poet Mom
November 01, 2017 – Christine Pereira

Poet Mom

A mother's journey through her daughter's cancer
BY Christine Pereira
PUBLISHED November 01, 2017
In January 2010, Christine Pereira of Riverside, Rhode Island, found out she had breast cancer. Eight surgeries later, she is a proud survivor. But fate had more in store for Christine. In 2011, right after her 24-year-old daughter Melissa’s beautiful June wedding, Melissa received a diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer, or cancer of the upper throat.

Watching her child deteriorate was one of the most difficult experiences of Christine’s life. In this moving series of narrative poems, Christine describes not her own experience with cancer but what it was like to be the mother of a daughter who had cancer. Happily, Melissa recovered and has now been cancer-free for four years. She and her husband James have two daughters, Kennedy, 3, and Kathryn, 1.

“These poems reflect my journey through Melissa’s long journey,” Christine says. “She is the bravest person I know.”

The Perfect Child

Born with a light that shines
She came into the world with a
Flurry of happiness and strength
She was a perfect child
Sleeping through the night
No terrible twos
Her teenage years were benign
No trouble, no drama
She went to college, received
Her degree
Met a nice boy, got married
She would not know that her
Journey into difficulty had just begun
She was a perfect child

Should She Worry?

She was married a month
She was not feeling well
She had a stiff neck
Nothing too bad
Nothing to complain about
Should She Worry?
But the pain persisted and
She was beginning to worry
After a checkup the doctor
Said an infection
Take this medicine
It will clear in a week
But it didn’t.
Should She Worry?
She went to another doctor
Who investigated further
He wanted to do a biopsy
Should She Worry?
Two weeks of waiting
Two years off her life of anxiety
The doctor calls
Should She Worry?

The Diagnosis

Nasopharynx cancer to be exact
She’s a girl — 25 years old.
A tumor behind her nose
Above her palate
This type of cancer, the tumor
Grows back into the brain
And you don’t survive
Hers grew down in her neck
Forming a hundred small little tumors
She’s 25
She’s my baby girl
The diagnosis feels like a knife to my heart
The diagnosis will certainly be the death of me.
The diagnosis. The word is like a cancer.


A mask is created for her
A mask that is made of steel
A mask that bolts her head to the table as
They radiate poison into her body
The mask is my enemy
She carries it to treatment
I want to crush it with my feet
Until I feel the steel crumble.
The staff that created the mask
Has seen so much pain
So much horror
They make jokes
Try to lighten the mood
I am so angry
I want to punch everyone I see
Will this mask save her life?
A double-edged sword


The waiting room is full of
All types of different people
She is trying to be strong
She has lost 30 pounds in a month
She can’t keep her head up
She must now take a pill for her anxiety
Her head bolted to a table
She says it feels like she’s nailed to it
She says she feels like she can’t escape
Three months of this
Will she be able to make it?
Will she be able to survive?
Will I be able to endure?
Her radiation is completed
She rings a bell to acknowledge her success
I hear that bell ringing in my ear still today

One Month

One month — no treatment
One month — no visits
One month — no questions
She is exhausted and welcomes the break
The radiation has burned the skin
Right off of her neck
She is losing her hair
One month — no sorrow
She can barely swallow
The treatment has scorched her throat
One month — no eating
We are powerless
We have no control
We don’t know what to do
One month — flies by like the blink of an eye


Scheduled for 6 rounds of chemotherapy
Her chest holds a port now
That will pump the medicine into her body
I look at her and she is frail
She has lost more weight
I watch her when she’s sleeping
I want to take her pain away
Make it mine
How could this have happened to her?
The perfect child
The obedient teenager
The lovely woman
I sit with her while she sleeps
I hope for a moment sleep gives her peace
The place helps other victims
You can cut the hopelessness with a knife
I will not give up
I beg her not to give up
Will she survive this cruel happening?

“Take Care of My Babies”

I am putting her to bed
She can’t even climb the stairs
We carry her up
As I am laying her down
She says to me
“Take care of my babies”
She has no children
I tell her husband
If this occurs again
Bring her to the hospital
She awakens
She is saying the same thing
“Take care of my babies”
I tell her she has no babies
She looks at me like I have three heads
Of course I do, she says
“Take care of my babies”

The Admission

She is admitted to the hospital
To find out what is wrong
I can’t believe this is happening
She used to be so strong
I feel that I can’t even breathe
I can’t begin to see
How a God could do this to someone
As precious and lovely as she
They say she is dehydrated
She is a very sick girl
They will need to admit her
She is white as a pearl
They will take good care of her
They will make her better
They will see that she gets full treatment
They are following protocol to the letter
How can I trust them
How can I be sure
That these strangers want the best for her
I take their word as pure

Hospital — November 2011

She has slipped into a coma
They think she may have had a stroke
She might not make it
I refused to believe this
This will not be her demise
They bring her to the ICU
They try to shield us
Did I just argue with the nurse
Did she just tell me not to enter the room
Does she think for one minute
I’m letting my baby out of my sight
Her doctor is a godsend
He keeps us well informed
After two days of agony
She has not had a stroke
She can return to the main hospital floor
She is in and out of consciousness
She knows us — she doesn’t know us
She cannot fend for herself
She is hooked up to more wires and
Tubes than you can possibly imagine
This is our nightmare
This is November 2011

Hospital — December 2011

This is our home now
We never leave her alone
Between her father, her husband and me
We take turns sleeping there
She has episodes of frustration
During the night
She gets combative
She thinks she is going to die
I never fully sleep when I am there
When I do rest, I lie awake thinking about
The perfect child
The child who always did everything right
I’m not an overly religious person
I pray
I pay harder than I ever have
I ask for a miracle
I ask others to pray
She is in more of a conscious state
Toward the end of the month
But she is quiet — barely speaking
And when she does, it’s simple words
The doctors think it was the perfect storm
The physiological factor
The weight loss
The crushing news
The radiation that has damaged
the arteries
In her neck
The chemotherapy
That nearly killed her.
She will be discharged soon
To rehab
To learn again
This is December 2011


She is different
She is giddy
She doesn’t have that sense of humor
That made her her
She has no filter
She is saying inappropriate things
She is hiding food so we think
She’s eaten it
She has to learn to walk steady again
She has to have therapy for her limbs
The place is dingy
They have not given her a shower
In 24 hours
Her husband argues with them
Do they even care
Do they even have a heart
Things like this do NOT happen
To someone you know
I feel like I’m in a nightmare
And I can’t wake up
She is better day by day
She is coming home soon
Will she be able to adjust
To a life that is strange to her now
I worry
Her rehabilitation is complete


She is home now
She adjusts well
She gets better
Day by day
Week by week
Month by month
It is a full year before she is
Strong enough to go back
To the normal things in her life
She is different now
But a better different
She is kinder
She is gentler
She has more patience than I ever
Thought a person could have
She is strong
She is healthy
She is Melissa Lee again
The perfect child

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