Poet Mom

November 2, 2017

A mother's journey through her daughter's cancer

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.

The Perfect Child

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

Should She Worry?

She was a perfect childShe was married a month

She was not feeling well

Tired

Fatigued

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

The Diagnosis

Should She Worry?Cancer

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

Cancer.

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.

Mask

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?

Radiation

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

One Month

I hear that bell ringing in my ear still todayOne 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

Chemotherapy

One month — flies by like the blink of an eyeScheduled 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

“Take Care of My Babies”

Will she survive this cruel happening?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

The Admission

“Take care of my babies”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

Hospital — November 2011

I take their word as pureShe 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

Hospital — December 2011

This is November 2011This 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

Rehabilitation

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

Constantly

Obsessively

Healthy

Her rehabilitation is completeShe 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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