On being given a difficult diagnosis

Poet Kevin
Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Poet Kevin Higgins. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

I have been in the Haematology Ward at University Hospital Galway five weeks tomorrow. We all have our own rooms, with en suite bathroom. Every patient in here has some type of blood cancer.

From being the arrogantly healthy thirty something who first became writer-in-residence at this hospital in 2007, I have been more at the mercy of others here than at any other time in my life. I have had to be washed, taken to the bathroom, and for much of the time – though that is changing now – I have been on twenty four hour oxygen.

I am on a milder, more risky, regime of chemo than the preferred one for my condition: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, one of the fastest acting cancers and deadly for many. My chronic autoimmune condition, sarcoidosis, prevents me from getting the recommended, very harsh, variety of chemo for this condition. It would, the consultant told me, almost certainly give me a chest infection which would put me on a respirator which I would likely never get off.

The chemo I am on, myself and my wife were very honestly told, does nothing at all for about one in three of the people who are given it. If I turned out to be one of those unlucky one in three, we could be talking about, the consultant said, “weeks”.

The one thing that has not changed, indeed it has become even more the case, is that the way I negotiate my way along the long, narrow, rocky path I must now tread, is by writing poems to try and make sense of it as it goes on.

I wrote this poem a couple of days after that darkest hour chat myself and my wife Susan had with the consultant.


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