A Poem About Finding Purpose and Looking Ahead During Cancer

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Learning that I had cancer — melanoma and renal cell carcinoma — made me feel like I lost something, but I keep looking ahead.

Image of a melanoma ribbon in a person's hands.

A melanoma survivor, Ohara found a purpose to keep her going.

Loss

I lost something the other day,

I didn’t just drop it,

It was taken from me

And where it was,

An emptiness remains.

I lost something the other day

And the emptiness hurts

I know it will get better

I will build walls

To protect myself.

I lost something the other day.

I will never get it back

It cannot be replaced

I will learn to live

With some emptiness

I lost something the other day

I will find another focus

It won’t be the same

And I won’t forget

What it was I lost.

I found something the other day

I found a purpose

To keep moving forward

Looking ahead

At what will come.

When you have cancer, and you are worried about dying, something fundamentally changes inside. You may survive, but you are forever changed inside — you lose that irrational sense of immortality that we have when we are young — before life and aging reminds you that death will come. This loss can be devastating, leaving a gap, as you learn to go on, one day at a time, with a bit less confidence in what the future will be. You do go on, but it is never the same.

Michelle

With eyes that sparkled, a smile that blinded

Fun loving girl, dancing with glee

Mercurial spirit no one could restrain

Contagious laughter; a soul that was free

Not one to tarry or take anything slow

You burst into life, and blew off the doors

No one could miss you, your passion so bright

You wanted it all and then wanted more

Sudden surprise, the bite of the beast

At first it was nothing, no worries, no fear

You shook it off, determined to win

But eventually, the beast reappeared

Chaos and madness took over your life

You tried to fight it and keep yourself strong

You were so young to hurt so inside

To struggle with pain; to push to go on.

The challenge before you seemed so unfair

You hadn’t lived; you’d much left to do

What you didn’t see was what you had done

You’d already given us the gift of you

We say good night to our warrior friend

You’ve done your fight and given your best

We’ll carry on and wrestle the beast

Sleep well my darling; you’ve earned your rest.

I am a stage 3 melanoma survivor. About 16 years ago, I worked with a group to raise money for melanoma awareness and research. The group was initially conceived of by a young woman battling stage 4 melanoma. Michelle Rigney wanted to make a difference — pushing for awareness, research, support, etc. as the battle against melanoma was so difficult at that time. She lost that battle, passing before our first major event in 2008 — and I wrote this poem for her after her death. The group, Moving for Melanoma of Delaware (cofounded by Anna Marie Farro), raised almost $1 million over the course of 10 years before disbanding. Michelle was also the inspiration for legal changes in the management of tanning bed use by minors in the state of Delaware – Michelle’s Law.

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