Brain Cancer Haiku

By Kathryn Erskine

Soaring like eagles
her words of joy, hope, love…life
lawmakers shoot down


Author’s Note: I wrote this haiku in tribute to my friend and fellow children’s author, Fran Cannon Slayton, who has brain cancer.  Her story is covered in a recent NY Times article and she’s being featured in a documentary about the need for affordable healthcare.



Kathryn Erskine is the author of the National Book Award winning novel, Mockingbird, as well as other novels for young readers.  Her upcoming releases include a picture book, Mama Africa, and novel, The Incredible Magic of Being.


Dear Paul Ryan

By Jacqueline Jules

After you’ve carried out your promises
to the American people,
I hope you’ll come to the chemo clinic with me.

Wait in my seat—rigid blue plastic,
stainless steel frame, comforting
as the flicker of fluorescent tubes
from the popcorn ceiling.

Notice how the legs of your chair
wobble on uneven green tile
while you listen
on a dying cell phone
to a bean counter at Blue Cross
explain why you don’t deserve
the drug your doctor prescribed.

Feel the bones
up and down your spine
burst into flames.

Then you can come home with me.
Sip canned soup at my table,
littered with pre-existing bills
for care no longer covered.

And you can tell me again
why you are so pleased
to be the face of the political party
which proudly proclaims
all life is precious
as long as no taxes protect it.





Jacqueline Jules is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum, Stronger Than Cleopatra, and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String. Her work has appeared in over 100 publications including The New Verse News, Potomac Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Little Patuxent Review, and Gargoyle. She is also the author of 40 books for young readers.


“Dear Paul Ryan” appeared previously in a slightly altered form in The New Verse News, and it is reposted here with the author’s permission.


“It’s Nothing,” You Said.

By Lu Pierro

A doctor’s visit delayed
until nothing was 3 centimeters round,
The diagnosis: the C word.
A word we couldn’t say,
a word that caught in our throat
filling us with  phlegm- like dread.

And so we entered a new country
with a new language.
Words like carcinoma, hematology
and dysplasia became as common as say
hair and blood and nausea.

We became a cluster,
a coterie shrouded in scarves,
We joined the Church of  Miracles
taking our plastic lazy boy seats
with our fellow supplicants
in the oncology ward.

Each had their own bottle of salvation
that dripped hope and despair
in the same vein.

For you, there was no redemption.
When the flesh loosened from your bones
and your teeth shone like alabaster tombs,
I knew the gateway had opened.
The time had come for you to shatter
into nothing
and into




Author’s Note:  My father, George Bisignano suffered from mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lungs.  Despite choosing no chemo, no radiation, the bills were astronomical, and continue to arrive like enveloped white ghosts.

A recipient of the Dodge Foundation and the Dorothy E. Laurence Scholarship, Lu Pierro has published work in numerous small press publications including Blast Furnace and Three and a Half.9.  She studied English at Douglass College and creative writing at Warren Community College.  Lu lives in bucolic Hunterdon County with her husband John and her non-alcoholic cat, Tipsy. She is the author of The Royal Rumpus and the March of the Pink Hats.


To learn more about mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos, please click here.



By Victoria Rivas

On the table, not permitted
to move, a huge gleaming silver
linear accelerator
radiates me. I must have been
abducted by aliens. I
secretly wiggle my fingers.
Will they notice, restrain my arms?

The highly focused beam targets
emptiness where cancer once lived.
Thirty-four days for five minutes,
my daily dose–killing rays that
damage cells, destroy genetic
material that controls how
cells grow and divide–has begun.

Radiation machine
white noise over
quiet, I linger
in my thoughts,
list people with cancer.

Anna’s husband,
a recurrence of
blood cancer,
back in the hospital,
stem cell transplant.
Wayne, rejects colon
won’t live with a urine
bag. He lives with
the cancer instead.

Conner’s Facebook saga,
from glazed eye to
empty socket sewn shut,
Conner smiling.

Five-minute treatment, time
for all that. Still
imagine my own

death over
and over and over.

A new alien
appears on day six, large
tan square with green
laser line
that cuts its center.

Is that a mouth? Or eyes?
It starts clicking.
I take it
to be their language.
The daily alien

with its round head,
green crosshair
eye scans, surrounds my
body. Hums, whirrs, buzzes
as my arms lay

encased in
a plastic mold made
especially for me.
More molds hang like
dry cleaning

on circular racks,
waiting to be picked up.
I wonder how
many more
have been abducted.

Every day
I get up, dress,
drive 20 minutes.
Five minute treatment.
My body

artificially tired,
I will go home, sleep
an hour, maybe two.
Half my day

I sit
wait to be called.
Radiation patients wait,

One woman
had six lymph nodes removed.
One won’t wear wigs
Another collects them.
One shows us
her burnt, peeling skin.

I had
no lymph nodes removed,
no chemo.
Just bad temper,
fatigue, irritated
by time spent.

I leave,
go home,
decide to cherish
my half day,
cross off
calendar squares,
nine more to go.

My right breast
went on vacation
without me.
My left nipple pink,
the right one
brown. Skin red, sunburned,
it sunbathed alone
on a beach
I don’t remember,
its private

I escaped the aliens,
a covert operation.
No, that’s a lie.
I did not escape,
but no longer need
to pretend,
make my mind

withdraw, keep my body still,
resist the urge
to shudder as I lie,
my hips twisted,
awkward on the cold table
while beams
penetrate my breast.

Recovery, follow ups,
still to come,
but mostly I return to normal life,
my breast somewhat smaller,
a bit puckered,



Victoria Rivas is a retired math/computer science teacher who now runs a martial arts school for a living.  She takes writing poetry as seriously as karate training. Her poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies. Her poem Keisha’s Gone, placed in the 77th Annual Writing Competition’s Rhyming Poem category and her poemYoung Adults took 1st honorable mention in the 2011 Split This Rock Poetry Festival contest. She has one chapbook, Doing Laundry, and is currently submitting a second book, Yo Miss! I Need a Pencil!, which includes both prose and poetry.


In order to learn more about radiation therapy for cancer, please visit the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute for more information.

Cancer · Thyroid Issues


By Janna Layton

The first warmth of April
and there it is on Valencia Street,
where I am looking for distraction—
a ladybug, small and spotless,
clinging to my arm. I walk with it,
then ease it to a tree.
I don’t want it trapped, dead and dry,
on the wrong side of a store window.

The next day beside a Peninsula creek,
and the weeds, if you pause,
are full of ladybugs.
The heat, the scent of grass, these beetles—
elementary school.
Us girls at recess: gathering, naming,
trying to tame the ladybugs.
Enthralled by the variety:
no spots, two, seven, more;
round, oval;
red, orange, sometimes the cartoon villain composition
of black shell with red markings.
But never green.
We argued which was best.
The blank slate of brick?
The friendliness implied in a circle with simple spots?
A narrow little thing hording black dots?
Sometimes we saw them mating:
a calm piggyback ride.
Then there were the larvae, the ugly babies,
pale orange and gray the only hint
of what was to come from those soft squirms.

The ladybugs were pretty,
but when our fingers were too clumsy
bitterness oozed out, a reminder
that these were insects, which crushed
would be as visceral a mess as a swatted fly.

But here they all are by this creek,
looking as if they were the same ladybugs
from all those years ago.
What of those girls I played with?
Some I still know of, in Vegas and Davis,
one with a baby.
Others’ faces I only see in brief motions,
with clinks from swings’ chains in the distance.

There is a plethora of patterns,
but the ladybugs are always—even with odd-numbered spots—
which I am not. At least by touch,
by doctor’s touch.
Now there is a lump,
and waiting,
here by the water.


Janna Layton lives in San Francisco. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various literary journals, including The New Yorker, Menacing Hedge, Appalachian Heritage, Zone 3, and Caesura. She blogs at

“Ladybugs” was first published in REAL 34.1 and is posted here with the author’s permission.


If you or a loved one are suffering from/have suffered from thyroid cancer, check out ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. In order to learn more about thyroid cancer, please check out the American Cancer Society and the American Thyroid Association.