The final stanza of T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes” has been a favorite of mine since my college English Literature class. My professor had a passion for literature that bordered on fanatical, and all but commanded us to over-analyze “Preludes.” Haunting, perplexing, and illustrative; the words build into a fog of emotion that I have accessed at various intervals since. It feels cataclysmic, desert-like; as if you are observing the experience of another from the sidelines, which consist of nothing but dirt. And a hot wind is blowing the dirt into your eyes. But you are also cold and have goosebumps. It is dramatic. The final stanza of “Preludes” in particular is powerful:
Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.
This is how caring for people with cancer can feel.
In my piece, “Vacant Lots”, I describe an experience I had while working an overnight shift as a nurse on an inpatient oncology unit. I imagined what a patient’s life might be like without cancer as she circled the unit pushing an IV pole, perhaps to distance myself from the reality of her situation - cataclysmic, desert-like.
Carlene Kucharczyk highlights an experience as an observer in the compelling poem ”All The Girls Were There, and Gorgeous,” published in the Spring 2017 edition of Intima. She expounds on the self-dialogue of her grandmother.
I wonder which year she is in, which room.
I imagine the girls are dancing.
I imagine my grandfather there.
I wonder if he notices any of the girls
are gorgeous except for her.
I could feel the hot, dusty wind wafting into my eyes as I read her piece. However, in Carlene’s milieu, her grandmother does not escape reality by choice or as coping mechanism. She has Alzheimer’s disease.
Though the conditions differ in cellular processes - rapid division versus gradual shrinking - the suffering brought on by both cancer and Alzheimer’s holds semblance. Isolation from loved ones, patronization, loss of identity, lost control of one’s body; the list lengthens.
Mention a cancer or Alzheimer’s diagnosis to a friend and see how they respond. Watch the room change. Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh. I can assure you it will be a dubious one.
Laura-Anne White, RN, BSN graduated from the University of Texas. She currently works with adults suffering from leukemia at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a clinical nurse. Her writing and artwork provide balance to her life and have appeared in the Intima, Hektoen International, and the Healing Muse. Her creative non-fiction “Vacant Lots” appears in the Spring 2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
©2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine