No More Kings by Lily Iona MacKenzie


From the poet: When my husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer, our first response was shock and then “why him?” He had rarely even been ill with a cold, and at 80 was in robust good health, his blood pressure consistently around 120/70 or lower. An avid in-door biker (an hour and a half each day, seven days a week) who follows a pretty healthy Mediterranean diet, he seemed like the last candidate for this disease. But cancer has an omnivorous appetite, and, unlike we humans, it doesn’t discriminate. It isn’t selective in its targets.

As I wrote these poems, I didn’t consider publishing them because they were so personal. But when I reviewed what I’d done, I realized they needed readers because others will resonate with the emotions evoked. They aren’t just diary entries to be hidden away. And while I don’t like to publicize what my husband and I went through as a result of this diagnosis, I also realize my writing could be of value to others who are either experiencing something similar or who may do so one day.

The first poem is entitled “Down the Rabbit Hole,” and Alice’s experiences in Wonderland aptly capture the disorientation we felt after receiving the cancer finding. It describes what I went through as I watched the urologist investigate my husband’s bladder with a cystoscope. Since we non-medical types don’t often get to actually see these cancers that grow in our bodies, I was fascinated at how innocent the growth looked. It, too, is part of nature, unaware of the havoc it produces in the lives it touches. And so, part of me, my writer self, was intrigued by this new world we’d entered.

Of course, a cancer diagnosis also reminds us of the inevitable prognosis we all face: everyone dies. Cancer just makes that reality more vivid. It becomes a new neighbor that we can’t ignore, a dark cloud that hovers even during remission periods. In other words, we can never claim innocence again in terms of what lies ahead of us. Also, the quotidian comes more into focus and takes on new meaning

These poems capture some of the emotions I went through as I helped my husband encounter the many surgical procedures, chemo therapy sessions, and radiation appointments he tolerated. As I state in the poem “Bend in Seasons,” “How super / natural the give and take / is between seasons, / as well as our mortality.” I hope you’ll join me on the journey I’ve been on.

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