Last October I decided to try running for the first time. My friend Jenny recommended the couch to 5K app so I downloaded it on my phone. My second mastectomy plus reconstruction back in March had knocked me sideways but now I was ready to start feeling a bit more like myself again. I decided to take photos on my run and then write a verse of a poem as soon as I got in from running. I used the canva app to put the verse and the photo together to share on Instagram. I’d never put poetry on Instagram before but it seemed like a great way to reach out to people. Also I figured if I made a public commitment, I’d be less likely to give up!
In December I reached 5K. I also had an MRI scan on my spine as I’ve been getting a lot of pain in my back and neck. On January 2nd I got my results saying I was all clear. The pain is not cancer coming back, it’s just side effects from Tamoxifen. Best New Year’s present ever! I still feel a lot of fear, anxiety, confusion, and loss of self confidence as a result of breast cancer. But I also have so much hope and appreciation for the future I am so lucky to have.
Today I started the 10K app. When I was sick I received a great many messages of love and support from people I knew as well as strangers. They were an invaluable source of support. A friend I hadn’t seen in many years who’d had cancer himself wrote saying ‘it’s very tough but I promise you life will be sweeter afterwards because of it.’ It stuck in my mind which is why I’ve been using the #lifewillbesweeterafterthis. Here’s the poem from Week 1 of my running. If you like it, please follow me on Instagram – aoifemannix. And a very happy New Year and all the best for 2018!
The eye of you with the pine
shaking hands with the beech.
Golden morning, a blue sharp
as your letters painting new October.
Running the line of the field,
each footstep bringing me back to health.
Clouds accuse me of city crackling.
The radio out of tune. The caw caw
of crows calling on the telephone,
a hawk humming for the line man.
The sky pinned to a tree, a map
of how little I know these woods.
The wind racing in the trees,
yellow rags tossed into tractor tracks.
The low howling of an autumn morning.
What divides the hedgerow from the road,
what unites the surprise of the bridge home.
I’m back in the deck chair in the garden
as you build your zookeeper spaceships
around me. I sip a banana milkshake
as a pheasant eyes me from the steps.
His feathers glint Japanese in the light.
Here we are safe from shotguns, needles,
bone scans. Of course there is still
a burning in my chest, muscle cramps
that catch the breath, the challenge
of getting out of the chair when my arms
won’t hold the weight they’re supposed to.
I watch a bee buzz inside a flame of flower.
You have made me a necklace
of rainbow pasta. You tell me you wish
you had a nurse gun to make everyone better.
You feed us chocolate and suck the layers
of colour from your ice lolly while asking
if I know more than you. A little bit,
I reply, while thinking how much there is
to learn from recuperating in the sunshine
with a small boy and his shining lego.
The daffodils in the window
hold in their white yellow halos
the soft wonder of being home
after hospital. As if they know
that ten hours surgery
leaves your skin petal torn
and stitched with pain.
Fragile as a fallen blossom.
Yet holding all the power
of a new morning
where the birds are singing
of spring and the light
is a phoenix blessing
splashing across the shadows
on the window sill.
The man at the reception desk
tells us he doesn’t actually work here.
There are corridors within corridors,
stairs you have to go up
in order to come down,
my name lost in the system.
But there is also kindness
drawn with a black marker,
a sense that all this
has been done before.
After the needles and the stitches
and the reconstruction,
I will emerge hungry from my cocoon.
My wings tattooed with the start
of a beyond surgery.
The address is hand written
but that red private and confidential
always makes me shiver.
Turns out it’s not surgery
but a study in what’s gone wrong
with my history. Of course I will agree
to the braille of my blood
being read by storytellers in white coats.
It is the least I can do for the future
though the mystery of repeating grief
sometimes sits in my throat like a stone.
This brand new year I will try to open myself
to the double helix of resolution.
A candle held up to scratched glass,
a tale that twists in the telling.
I am not the narrator but then again
nor am I a helpless spectator.
After The Op – recording of my poem on One Stage At A Time, a poetry project for people affected by cancer. We are currently looking for submissions.
The ultra sound gel is cold and blue.
I have been in this room before.
Ice in my veins. Too many biopsies,
scans, skipped heartbeats.
I am marked with a small circle
that will take days to fade.
She says, ‘That’s just your rib.’
Some bruising left over
from old scars. Nothing new,
nothing sinister. I’m so grateful
I start babbling about
my appointment with Santa Claus.
I am standing on a platform
waiting for a steam train
to take me to the North Pole.
As the fog swirls with the ringing
of bells, your face lights up with belief.
The door swings open to shouts
of ‘All Aboard’. Golden tickets,
the howling of wolves, hot chocolate.
It does not matter where we’re going,
it matters that we can still make the journey.
Vows – recording of my poem on One Stage At A Time, a poetry project for people affected by cancer. We are currently looking for submissions.
The snowmen sit in a huddle,
melting warriors with hats askew,
ready to sing of anger and the hot tears
of one little boy who doesn’t have
a costume. Inconsolable in his wellies.
The devastation of wanting a carrot nose.
You believe it will snow for Christmas
just as it does on every ad on the TV
but this morning the streets are wet with fog,
mysterious clouds that turn the tinsel lady
into a ghost of a nursery rhyme.
I hold the song of your belief in my hand,
so fragile, so pure, so full of magic.
Going to Maggie’s For The First Time – this poem is being read at Maggie’s Oxford Carol Concert