What I Learned from Cancer


Writing poetry was something that got me through cancer and helped heal my soul.

Illustration of a man with a gray zip-up hoodie and gray hair smiling at the camera without teeth.

In the fall of 2022, I was diagnosed with stage 2, non-specific non-Hodgkin lymphoma. For more than a year, I had complained about a growing mass in my left armpit to various doctors in my small Midwest town. I described the electrical pain that shot down to the fingers of my left hand. After so long, the hand was atrophying, wasting away, dying before my very eyes. Finally, doctors in a bigger city diagnosed my cancer and got me into treatment within days. I spent the next six months in and out of the hospital for chemo and immunotherapy. It was torturous, as one can imagine. My body wasted away until my shadow looked like a stick figure. Fortunately, I survived. In the year since I rang the bell, my body has mostly recovered what it lost.

One of the things that kept me going — besides my fervent desire to have more time with my wife and family — was poetry. Yes, poems. I wrote about what I was going through every day. I wrote around a hundred poems. It was good medicine. More than anything, the poems helped heal my soul. I started sending them off to magazines and organizations about cancer. Eventually, every poem was published. Millions of people read them. Once I was cured, I arranged the poems chronologically into a book. "Running from the Reaper: Poems by an Impatient Cancer Survivor" is now available online. The small book is good medicine for anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, is going through treatment, has recovered or for anyone who loves or cares for someone with cancer. Poetry helped me through a dark and uncertain time. Perhaps it can help others, too. I share with you the very last poem I ever wrote about my experience, a poem about what I learned about life and about myself.

What Cancer Taught Me

An abiding awareness that our days are truly numbered

An abundant appreciation for the little things

A genuine gratefulness for what I already possess

A healthy respect for the fragility of well-being

The wisdom not to hold on to anything too tightly

An admiration for the heart that refuses to surrender a single beat

The staggering realization that I am not the center of the universe

The fearlessness to cliff-dive when no one else was brave enough to jump

The ability to see the world more vibrantly than I ever imagined

That every bright new day is a precious gift

My cancer taught me that life is a series of doors

through which we pass where joy and love often awaits

on the other side

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

Related Videos