Cancer Is A Special Clock – A Personal Post


This morning I heard from a friend of mine who is living with cancer, and that started me thinking, remembering, and wanting to write about that part of my life that was really the beginning of my life in India and what I am doing now.  We just don’t ever know what is coming next, what will be presented and what we will choose.

We all live with clocks in our minds, how we see the span of our lives, knowing it is all a guess anyway because mostly we don’t have much control.  But some events, like Cancer for me, changes our perception of time and we make different choices based on a sense of time running out, and of the preciousness of life as we live it.  For me, January 1999 when I discovered I had cancer forced me to take a new look at my “To Do” list, short term and long term (the big “if.”)  With one child still in high school all I wanted was to live to see her graduate.  My older daughter was married and I trusted her and her husband to do everything necessary and possible to take care of her (except making sure she did her homework!)  Yes, I really worried about that.  In some ways we never change.

Below is a poem I wrote in 2001.. then a two-year “Still-Alive’r”

I’m a Cancer Still-Alive’r


Why do they call me a Survivor —

When I’m just a still-alive’r?

Really now, truth be told,

You don’t outlive your cancer

‘Til you die of something else.

One year, two years, five years, ten years, six months,

Who’s counting?

I am

Every day in fact.

Survival is for things that are Gone,

Done, Finished,


I survived rape once… long ago…

Lived through that night with a knife at my throat.

I survived, and

It’s over and done with,

Except for the part that never goes away,

But that man doesn’t still lurk in my shadows, he is gone.

My cancer cells though,

They lurk,

That is how they are,

They rape forever.

Some tell me Cancer isn’t such a bad disease anymore,

They know,

Because a good friend of theirs, a Breast Cancer Survivor,

Just died,

A “good death” though –

Family and friends around, and peaceful music….

Frankly, I just want to scream – or maybe throw-up,

I do not want to hear all of this!

Are they crazy!

There is no “good death” when all you want is to live.

Anyway, if I don’t have such a bad disease,

Why are all these other people dying from it?

Some tell me I’m so lucky to have it now,

In this time of great new medicines, and

Public Awareness

(Like my cancer cells really care about public awareness!)

If I’m so lucky to have it now,

Instead of yesterday,

Can’t I just trade it back, be “not-so-lucky” for now,

Instead have it in five or ten or twenty years, or


Well, what more can I tell you?

I still walk among the living, me and my cancer cells,

My heart does beat to a different time clock,

Every day counts —

And every day happens to be

More beautiful and

More treasured

Than the one before,

I may not earn that title of Survivor

Since only time can tell,

But I’m sure happy just to be

A cancer Still-Alive’r.

Cancer freed me to look at my To Do list and say it was now or never, and thus began the journey that led to the founding of Shishur Sevay.  It was a dream since high school when I’d written in an essay called, “The Meaning of Life”.

I wake up every morning grateful to be alive.  My life has always been filled with meaning, and with love.  This was another chapter waiting to be lived.  At the time of my cancer there were some other terrible things happening in my life.  I remember thinking to myself, “If I survive all this, I’m sure going to be one tough lady.”  

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joyce Godwin Grubbs
    Mar 07, 2012 @ 16:23:58

    Powerful isn’t enough to describe this post. With your permission I would like to use parts of it in a post on my blog: this needs to go further, be louder, shine brighter, live longer, and take on a viral life of its own. I specialed terminal patients as a part time job aside from my fulltime job for 17 years including the time I was working with Dr. Jerry Galloway. At that time my own daughter of 12 was diagnosed with melanoma and we were told it could be 96% chance of being fatal in less than five years. 36 years later, married with 5 kids, we still smile when the University of Iowa HOspitals call to “check on her” with follow up.

    But Michelle, as many wonderful things as I have seen and heard patients do when they are diagnosed: starting a work in India like yours tops it all. I await your permission to write about this in my next blog. In the mean time, thank you for honoring me with your friendship and allowing me the privlege to use my only available tool to help you at this time: my skills as a writer and author.


  2. Dr. Michelle Harrison
    Mar 07, 2012 @ 22:55:43

    Hi Joyce, and thank you for your words. Of course, you can quote any or all of it, with attribution. I write to be heard so any of my blogs can be quoted, (with attribution — legalese) I sure hope Jerry is smiling. I am.


  3. Jan Fondell
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 05:48:41

    You are a remarkable Alive-r! You are fabulously and fully alive and that is a wonderful thing. Thank you for sharing this important part of your story.




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March 2012
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