Theodora Anne Merry, a 53-year-old Chester resident, was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2009 but had no health insurance for treatment. An artist, Merry turned to help from the local community and to poetry to help her through the battle. Though sculpture is her main love, Merry says that while she was sick, poetry was "the only art form I could really manage." In April 2009, she marked the anniversary of her mother's death from cancer, 30 years before, by tearfully penning the words of the poem "Focused on Me for a Change." "The poem was a way to pinpoint and focus my feelings of what was ahead," Merry says.
"Focused on Me for a Change"
By Theodora Anne Merry
Written April 2009
Parasitic growth it is consuming a brew, a concoction consisting of
Coffee, sugar, alcohol, estrogen, me ... hopefully not you or you or you.
Lovers, Children, Sisters, Brothers, Friends, Healers,
Muster! Warriors with me please align, albeit resignedly,
Let us rise to the Call… to Battle.
Slit slice dig peer slice peruse dye dissect implant, infuse
Unfortunately accepting indiscriminate eradication of me ... my blood, my follicles
So close in nature they are to it that our weapons cannot differentiate.
Feel, know fear dear faces freely washed by tears
Visualize, visualize, see the future, our future, a future me,
Imagine our entire race without it!
Collateral damage manageable tolerable endurable bearable
See me wearing someone's long flowing grand mahogany strands
Glowing, dyed blue I grieve my Sentinel's sacrifice … necessarily made to gauge our enemy's number, its stage.
Turnips, asparagus, spinach, the Cruciferons, blueberries, chocolate … fortifiers, providers of vigor, yes
Yet irrefutable strategies they are not proven allies as rigorous as those to which we now necessarily must resort:
Mustard gas, "Happy" tree of Asia, bark of the Pacific Yew, Periwinkle, May apple, and fungi growing in the soil of the Earth.
Gathered together solemnly they create a Recipe, a Cocktail, an Elixir all my own
I raise a toast: to our Health! Silently I add this plea: protect, free me, all of us, from this malignancy.
Now… weed it heave it yank it pull it cut it out cull it minimize it separate it eliminate it … once and for all, for Good!
With Fiery Grace I issue its dismissal … surely, truly, finally, go forth, leave me to again be all I desire to be!
A month after Merry's diagnosis, her younger sister, Barbara, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Merry responded by writing "Hand-Me-Down." "She used to wear my hand-me-downs," Merry says. "Here is one that I wish [I] never, ever would have to [hand down]." Merry adds that Barbara is a cancer survivor.
By Theodora Anne Merry
Written July 2009
"I don't want her hand-me-downs"
"I always had to wear your hand-me-downs"
My hand-me-downs were not offered cheerily
Their giving was our mother's doing
I would have preferred to keep them, they were after all mine
You were skinny I was not
My hand-me-downs did not really fit you, becomingly
But saved our mother time, expense and trouble
Did you know … could you sense my clothes' memories ghosts?
Comforted now by forest green cotton covered goose down,
Alone, I reflect back upon the present, the matter at hand:
Stitches mapping, embroidering … horrors
Cold steel, hospital corridors, waiting, waiting … waiting
Strangers peering, prodding where baby's mouths and lovers hands
Once were and should be only, should be only.
At hand, sadly, incredibly! A hand-me-down
I prayed would never ever fit you
I cry. This is much too large for my little sister!
It will sag; billow when a breeze
Graces the space where your chest
Once breasts proudly wore.
You have your own clothes, path, experience.
I know. Still … I offer to hand you down
My worn yet Hopeful hand-me-down
That it may yet be useful, as you cope,
May it save you … time, expense and trouble.
As we traverse the same slope,
The very same slope on which so many we love have cried,
So many we know have died.