As a psychologist specializing in clinician-patient communication, Greg has worn a few hats: university professor, associate dean, foundation executive and independent consultant.
Diagnosed in January 2014 with high-grade carcinoma of the head and neck, he underwent extensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment over the next five months.
He and his wife Suzanne reside in Connecticut and are profoundly grateful to all the oncology professionals, staff and survivors who treat and support them.
The doctor’s eyes, nearly frozen in place Cast downwards, fixed, and distorting his face Today it seems I’m an interesting case
Three weeks ago he examined my ear And ordered tests with a note, brief and clear Three weeks too long to be waiting in fear
The news is bleak and the reason unknown Were prior tests opportunities blown? And so we learn that a tumor has grown
The mass is large, it’s been there for some time But ones like this are so often benign A surgeon thinks that I could do just fine
The stakes are high as I get on the table Reposing there, acting brave, but unstable The needle sharp and the doctors quite able
The fluids drawn, to the surgeon we go Whatever’s best, I am sure he will know The images shown on his screen, what a blow
The next few days we await and prepare The process slow, the pathology rare The lab confirms a malignancy there
The shock strikes hard, a mind-body attack But hope endures, helps us take a new tack It’s time to breathe, forge a plan and strike back
As time goes by, the consensus complete Advanced, high grade and a challenge to treat I wonder still, can this cancer be beat?
FEBRUARY 24, 2016
Shards of bitter taste arrive like gnats
in a sweaty summer haze,
shifting my thoughts
to the loss of what’s missing
and then to signs of recovery.
Healthy taste cells grow fast and die young,
updating the brain,
delighting the palate,
warning the body of possible danger.
Mine, as expected, are hapless victims
of the proton rays that pounded
my mutinous tumors nearby.
Like the weeping, burning epidermis
of my target surface
the taste cells flamed out shortly,
a sure sign that the treatment was no placebo.
Two years later renegade outbreaks
still recur along the skin’s outer edges.
Sunlight, wear and pathogens can brew
an intense, lava-like burn of sting and itch.
Doctors scramble to their fire stations.
Steroids, antibiotics, and lotions repel the attack, restoring order to cell recovery.
I trust the taste buds will also heal one day.
For now I sip a bitter coffee stout,
pucker up to a sour lemon sorbet,
recall the savory kisses of gourmet food,
fine wine, exquisite chocolate.
I listen to an owl,
scan the sky, smell the lilacs,
sense the softness of deepening shade.
Brushing aside the gnats,
I inhale the calm of twilight,
exhaling my thanks with no regrets.
July 20, 2016
miniature torches in
thick clouds of smoke,
driven by a fierce summer wind
that toys with the wildfire below.
Like fireflies, the sparks float away
igniting more of the dry, wooded canopy as they land.
Cancer cells cast off sparks that float away,
inside the canopy of human physiology.
Riding along lymph, nerve and blood lines,
these fireflies create malignant hot spots,
too small to be seen as images,
too well disguised for the body to attack.
Once found, they require powerful regimens --
some massive and blunt, others small and precise.
The forest floor shows the first signs of rebirth,
Fragments of brush, grasses and seedlings take shape.
Over time the forest recovers.
From charred roots, rotted limbs and nourishing ash,
new growth feeds on the debris of the old.
Cancer care also moves on,
advancing its science, mourning its losses
and raging against the fire storms
while its recurring cycles endure:
sickness and health, relapse and recovery, death and rebirth.
Personal narratives endure as well in a community
of patients, families, trusted friends and healers.
In support groups our stories evoke nods, grimaces and soothing laughter.
Eyes once drained by surgery and radiation are misty.
Hopes rise, fall and rise again.
How fire flies.
How we yearn, and fight, for fresh new sprouts --
the seedlings of life.
Copyright CURE 2016
All Rights Reserved.
Please don’t tell me you know I’ll be fine. Wishing isn’t knowing. The journey is mine.
Words, though meant to console, pierce my heart, dull my mind while soothing the source’s emotional bind.
I can’t know for sure what others may feel. Their calm may be earnest, their confidence real.
My speech is halting. My joking feels lame. Emotions collide, camouflage the brain.
Restless, unsure and numbingly slow, my thoughts drift along with my old self in tow.
The healing takes time, a new normal I’m told. The new part makes sense. When does normal take hold?
Wishing isn’t knowing. The journey is mine. Please don’t tell me you know I’ll be fine.
June 27, 2016
High-Risk Disease: Neither Here Nor There
A psychic shuttlecock
batted back and forth
over the same familiar court.
Flying straight on a hurried path,
losing momentum, then rerouted abruptly
in an entirely new direction.
So my mind scatters.
Darting toward a forbidden future
too dark and murky to grasp.
Flashing to perils past,
still smoldering with sadness.
Pausing in the uncertainty of the present.
Distracted and preoccupied,
my mind refuses to stay
in this moment or any other.
It wanders and wobbles.
Neither here nor there, it is everywhere.
It dreads the next procedure,
adrift in the possibilities.
It hopes to live.
It lives to hope.
Timid comes the spring, sighing with unease,
Longer days warm the soil another few degrees.
Daffodils arise, renouncing my disease.
Sensing signs of hope, a rose nearby perceives
Like me, it's unprotected, beset by inner thieves.
Begged for intervention, I kneel and roll my sleeves.
Reaching under branches, my hand and glove are torn.
Tiny drops of blood reveal a sharp, tenacious thorn.
Intersecting planes of experience conform.
Pausing in the moment, an introspective one,
I review the basics needing to be done:
Fertilize and prune, re-energize with sun.
Staring down my cancer, I ponder what's ahead.
Fully radiated, trimmed, and chemically re-fed,
Will I savor summer's warmth, escape the winter's dread?
April 21, 2016
Treacherous the path that guides us here,
A twisting, narrow alley of fear.
Choices evolve. Sign posts appear.
Our travels begin, a chaotic scene,
Tests to be done and docs to be seen,
Experts renowned, supportive and keen.
Specialists confer, inspect every scan,
Surgeons poised to remove all they can.
Chemo, radiation round out the plan.
The pathway dims, were there signs we mistook?
Tired, afraid, we need a fresh look.
Second opinion, a travel guidebook?
We get the appointment with no time to spare.
Will they be helpful? Such rarified air
For neophytes to advanced cancer care.
If they concur, what will be the point?
If they disagree, whom should we anoint?
Either way, we fear, this will disappoint.
On two key facets they do disagree:
No bone grafts, radiate differently.
The crossroads reveal path number three.
Time to resolve this medical debate.
The clock is ticking; the hour is late.
A clinching vote makes our pathway straight.
The third group impressive, direct and clear,
Proton radiation? They have it here.
No need for bone grafts. Our doubts disappear.
Together for years, a team with passion,
For complex cases they are a bastion.
Midcareer experts, long on compassion.
Nine skilled surgeons, a twenty-hour fray,
Postop recovery, a two-week stay,
Protons for seven weeks, once every day.
Two years later we're scanning quarterly,
Getting this far, a mystery to me.
We hope some day I could be cancer-free.
Looking back now, what has our journey shown?
Ignore our doubts, the consensus unknown,
Or find the best team and make it our own?
Patients must grapple with uncertainty.
Seeking more options can block or set free.
For us the best choice was road number three.
March 28, 2016
Choosing a path is inherently subjective. All the clinicians we met during this journey were highly skilled, gracious and professional. They collaborated conscientiously with the other teams. We salute and thank every one of them.
Facing major road blocks
Cancer near my voice box
Get me to the best docs
Panic on a big scale
Surgeons need the detail
Send it overnight mail
Options there to try for
Found the best team on tour
Gurney to the O.R.
Road ahead looks so far
Surgeons are my North Star
Waking up the next day
Tubes are in my airway
Getting through it some way
Regimens to follow
Fighting hard to swallow
Feeling scared and hollow
Tripping on the pain med
Colors fill my whole head
Nights are long in this bed
Wakeful as a night owl
Nerves are on the late prowl
Can't say even one vowel
Scribble notes on loose leaf
Pile up a big sheaf
Writing brings me relief
Midway through the next week
Surgeons add a new tweak
Suddenly I do speak
With a tiny voice back
Physically I'm on track
Mentally a new tack
Listen on the inside
Cancer is a rough ride
Emphasize the upside
Healing starts to creep in
Confidence will deepen
Crooked roads can straighten