The Meaningful Cancer Stories Behind the CURE® Poetry Contest Winners


The CURE® Poetry Contest winners explain what inspired each of their poems, from the death of a friend and oncologist who treated one survivor’s cancer to the emotional experience of losing hair during treatment.

CURE® recently announced the four winners of its inaugural poetry contest: Richard Strickland, Desiree LeRoy, Amy Smart and Dana Stewart.

Each winning poem tells a powerful story about the devastating impacts of cancer – a cancer survivor grapples with the death of the oncologist and friend who treated his cancer; a woman shares the text messages sent to her by a close friend with metastatic breast cancer who later died from the disease; a woman with breast cancer expresses the pain of losing her hair; and a survivor explains how cancer creeps into her therapy session even though many years have passed.

In interviews with CURE®, the winners shared some background on the stories and feelings that inspired their poems.

“You know, I'm coming to tears even talking about it,” Strickland said. “And so I needed to find a way to express that and to get it out of me and to let other people know what a tragedy it was.”


Strickland: It was a great irony to me. I had this good friend who then wound up treating me for my leukemia. And then I went in to visit him one day and he was bald, and he was in treatment for brain cancer. And then over a period of months, eventually, he was just gone. And I thought, “What a horrible loss for, you know, one of the top oncologists in the country to himself be struck down.” And he treated me, and I'm been in remission for seven years – it just seems so unjust. And I went to a memorial service for him at his institution, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He was just so admired and so loved by all his colleagues. And I just, you know, I'm coming to tears even talking about it. And so I needed to find a way to express that and to get it out of me and to let other people know what a tragedy it was.

Leroy: So I actually wrote the piece a few months before learning about your contest, it had been just over two years since my dear friend had passed from metastatic breast cancer. And I think we all think that we grieve the right way, or we're done, or you know, we’re good. And then I decided to write the poem for an online reading. And then from there, it just kind of evolved into a whole grieving process all over again. And so I took her text messages to me, which felt safest – which I revisit from time to time – and turned them into a piece and then added my own reflections, which were the hardest because I had not done that yet.

Smart: I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in March of this year – total surprise and shock, given my age and no family history and what not. And honestly, one of the very first things that popped in my head was, “Oh, no, I'm going to lose my hair.” I've always, my entire life, I have had long, dark, thick hair. I've been known as ‘Amy with the long hair.’ It's been a really big part of my identity. So losing my hair was a really great fear of mine. And I was made to feel by people that have not gone through it, that it was no big deal, losing your hair wasn't a big deal. You get the, “It'll grow back. It's just hair, it's not a big deal. There's so many other big things that you have to worry about.” And those people weren't trying to be mean or anything like that. They were trying to be supportive and helpful. But as I've gone through the journey and felt my own feelings and talking to other women that have gone through it, I realized that it wasn't just me feeling that way. Losing your hair, especially as a woman and having it being a huge part of your identity, really, it's a big deal. It's the first outward sign of you being sick. I mean, other than losing my hair and my eyebrows and such, I look healthy, I act healthy. You couldn't really tell any other way unless I told you that I had cancer. So that was really the inspiration. I just wanted to get my feelings (out) and help people that are trying to help me understand what it is that I'm going through.

Stewart: So I was diagnosed about 11 years ago with breast cancer at the age of 32. It was a shock. So having gone through that, and then once I was done with treatment, I kind of felt like everybody was like, “Great, you can go back to your life.” And I had no idea what that meant. So I was really, really struggling with anxiety, and realized after a couple years that I needed some help to get through it, because I just was not recovering from the emotional side of the cancer. So I went and got therapy, (and) I'm still in therapy. And I was inspired by just sitting on that couch in a therapy session, and just kind of going through all the emotions and anxiety and talking about it. And I kind of just felt like every time I would try to talk about how I was feeling, that cancer anxiety would creep in. So it just felt like it was always sitting right next to me on the couch and wanting to speak up and have its say, and I was like, “It's my time.” So that's kind of how I got inspired to write “The Couch” and just talk about that therapy and my PTSD with the cancer.

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