Emily Marie Shaw
Emily Marie Shaw is an attorney, cancer survivor, artist and unpublished poet who lives in New York. Poetry has provided a means to express and share on a deeper level her experience with a life-altering disease.
The expected news was not forthcoming last year, hugs
were replaced with somber embraces,
and the words, You have cancer. Oh, how a few words can
alter the course of your life. Normalcy slips away, upended
by an urgency that leaves no margin for error or delay.
While leaving the doctor’s office I gazed at people
laughing, eating, sipping drinks, and staring intently at their
cellphones, and I was feeling caught between the healthy and
the dying. There was no safe middle ground here, no undoing
the diagnosis with a shrug or a laugh. I was in the world and
yet separated, close to everyone but simultaneously
stigmatized, branded with a Hester Prynne “C” that was
emblazoned on my chest and seared into my consciousness.
My bubble of wellness burst and splattered everything. I
was left shell-shocked, fearful, doubting and above all angry.
Following quickly behind was a dizzying barrage of
diagnostic tests, debilitating chemotherapy treatments,
invasive surgeries, Himalayan piles of medical forms, and a
coterie of oncologists, surgeons, nurses and social workers.
Cancer treatment and its side effects: nausea, vomiting,
sapped energy, anemia, hair loss and oozing wounds that
healed at a sloth’s pace became my constant companions.
Scars abounded, crisscrossed my body, and met at crowded
intersections, creating a patchwork of medical prowess and
my body’s compromised response to a new normal. I was
caught between evaporating vanity and a more malleable
definition of beauty.
I was caught among the well-meaning who offered
unsolicited advice (You should try this. or I read somewhere
that if you do...), the stupidly callous (Are you sure that you
did everything you could have done, did you...), the
insatiably curious with a penchant for gossip and bad news
(What’s the prognosis? or So and so was in remission, how
sad that there was a recurrence and then it metastasized.),
the seemingly spiritual with their pious platitudes
(God never gives you more than you can bear. or
Everything happens for a reason.), the avoiders who were
easily identified by their noticeable discomfort in my
presence, feigned offers of help and abrupt exits (Gotta run,
so busy with work and family. Call me if you ever need
I pushed past these displays of sympathy, dismay and
avoidance. I slowly advanced, sometimes stumbling and
struggling to rebalance on my fraying tightrope between the
known and the unknown. I leaned into the silence. Out of
nowhere extended hands caught me when I faltered;
soothing, empathetic voices shared their stories of similar
woe and urged me not to lose heart.
More than a year has passed and “in remission” is now my
status. Now, I rejoice in the ordinary: walking without
quickly fatiguing, eating without incident and the sunrise of
I don’t permit the 5-year window of possible recurrence to
diminish my present actions.
I am forever a wayfarer in a retinue of ever increasing and
sometimes decreasing survivors.
I remain caught but not bound. Now I am more present in the
moment than I was prior to the bursting and the splattering. I
am reaching out, stepping into the darkness and then the
light, again, and again, and again.
These poems are sonnets, written shortly after Scott Ennis suffered a near-fatal bicycle accident that also involved a severe TBI (traumatic brain injury). Because a TBI can blur the line between fantasy and reality, Scott was able to heal with the help of writing poetry. Metaphors and similes are the artistic blurring of fantasy and reality.
I laughed about my injury today
I tried to think what “normal” was and failed
I wondered what the “normal” folk would say
if asked what they thought “normalcy” entailed
I hate to think that “normal” is my goal
I’d rather strive for Beauty, there I find
the friends who’ve been attracted to my soul
whose love can calm and bring me peace of mind
I wonder what I used to be and why
I don’t fit in with “normal” anymore
I know that thought is important so I try
to check my laughter at the “normal” door.
I know my thoughts and injury are real
But I will save some thoughts for when I heal.
Hate and Loss
I hate what I’ve become; I hate to hate
But loss deserves no better frame of mind
I know it will come back if I but wait
I wish it was a penny I could find
Both hate and loss congeal within my brain
Emotion’s heart still beats; it isn’t luck
They gave me pills to stop emotion’s pain
And now I’d cry, but all my tears are stuck
I only have an accident to blame
I only have a life of hate and loss
I had a love, but then I lost her name
I hate the bridge to find her I must cross
I love to love and love what I will be
When I have found my thoughts and they’ve found me.