Cancer Is a Strange, Unconventional Fairy Tale


A woman with breast cancer describes her cancer journey as an unconventional fairy tale, with hope scattered within the darkness.

This poem is pulled from pieces of my journal when I was experiencing breast cancer. My initial diagnosis was that it had metastasized to stage 4. After some testing, they pulled it back. The day I was diagnosed, the world felt like it froze in place, that my tongue had been taken away and I literally couldn't form words. The only way I could talk about it to those around me was by writing. I came to look at each of my providers like characters in a story, and the years of treatment were a strange and dark fairy tale. An unconventional, unreal, reality. There were moments in my wig where I felt like an absent-minded Rapunzel. I remember watching the clock like Cinderella at the Prince’s ball as I waited for the nurse, or the appointment or the next round of chemo. There really is no one story, and survivors, whether by living through the treatment or the disease, don't like thinking about endings. Yet, there is always hope, and that is why fairy tales exist. I share my chapter with others and say "Yes, just keep living."

An Unconventional Fairy Tale

Preface, it started in winter when it was white as snow, the day the phone said, “You have cancer.”

Like a raven shot from the sky with one perfect arrow, my words fell to the ground.

And because it was my life that stopped, the entire town around me, everything and everyone froze in place.

Prologue, then began the tests, like pinpricks from a spinning wheel, blood drawn over and over.

Chapter One is where I watched the chemo hanging, bags of healing poison fat as October apples offered in the forest to innocent princesses lost there.

“Bring me her heart,” said the Herceptin, but the huntsman, in his white lab coat, merely measured with scans to see if it was still beating.

Chapter Two was the first surgery. Then I was standing alone, reflected in the mirror. “Who is the fairest of them all?” I whispered, tracing the scar where my left breast used to be, then looking away because I couldn’t look at myself anymore.

“Take every mirror away,” I ordered.

Chapter Three was radiation, the machine not unlike Snow White’s glass coffin with a merry band of radiation technicians that carried me to the platform. I closed my eyes as it whirred, glass cold under my back.

Through, I told myself. The only way out is through.

Eventually, it was.

“But what about the happily ever after?” I now ask my oncologist. She holds my hand and gives me one last spell to say to myself.

“Live,” she says. “Just live.”

This poem was originally submitted for the CURE® 2021 Poetry Contest.

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