Sarcoma Series

This series of nine poems is written from the perspective of a patient going through treatment. They were written by Suzie Siegel who has leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer of the smooth muscle. Her choice of words and phrases, often expressing her innermost feelings, allows the reader to sense and share her emotions and often to be there beside her on her journey. She spent more than eighteen years as a reporter and editor at the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Tampa Tribune before being diagnosed with cancer.


Calm and controlled, 
I liked myself that way.
I had to learn to let go,
to fall into pleasure,
to express myself without words.
Lovers liked me that way.

I awoke to pain
beyond words, beyond logic, beyond law.
I had to lose my need
to make sense of it.
I had to learn to scream,
not for pleasure, mine or another’s,
but because there was no other way out.


Window blinds slice morning sun.
Shadow and light
fall on translucent skin,
on black sheets
blending with black hair,
making material
the chiaroscuro of our relationship.
Black eyes burn into yours.
"I’m black and white."
"I’m colorless," I joke.
"Far from it," you say. "You’re radiant."

You were the first told, the first
gone from this new life,
where I lie on a black table
cold as stone,
holding back my nausea,
from the drugs,
from my abandonment,
my face in a plastic form,
staring straight down
into nothingness,
dress pulled up,
legs spread,
feet bound,
dark ink tattooing pale flesh,
guiding the beam that burns the cancer.
I’m radiant


I was the youngest sister, the Little Mermaid,
who wanted to see more, sense more.
I was cut up
like the paper dolls a sister made me
not from the happy-ever-after movie, 
but from the book
about a world underwater,
where prices are high.
The mermaid lost her voice
for the potion, the poison
that would turn her tail to legs.
Each step stabbed her 
with thoughts of loss.
Poison buys me time, too.
I walk into the future
on knives,
but with voice intact.
Soulless, destined to be sea foam and nothing more,
she could win eternity with good deeds.
I have had my fill of eternity.
I long to drift lightly,
ashes on the waves.


Is it me against them?
I’m proud of these revolutionary cells,
these pioneers and their diversity,
their ability to grow and transform.
I hate to play the conservative,
the conformist, 
threatening to kill them
if they don’t behave,
act like their neighbors.
These cells are not invaders.
They are not foreign.
They are my values
encoded in damaged DNA.


And if thou wilt, remember,
and if thou wilt, forget.
-- Christina Rossetti

What are the rules?
Can we start now
and be done with it?
Then I could cross it off my list:
Write will. Give away stuff. Grieve the end of my existence.
Then I could focus 
on chocolate and alcohol.
When I die,
friends could wear red
and talk of other things.
Only the friends in New York
would have to wear black.

Reincarnation I

In a complex world,
people see simply.
My identity has changed
as I’ve changed jobs, lovers,
I become someone else
by taking off my glasses.
Now I’m a cancer patient,
the rest surgically removed.

Reincarnation II

In another life, maybe,
we could not bear separation.
We made a pact.
This part is true: We were born
on the same morning, in the same hospital,
two white roses laid on the altar.
Before we forgot our past,
did we look across the nursery
and smile?


Scan me.
Can you read the dis-ease?
Drink will reveal me,
the white-chalk taste
lining a crime-scene body.

In goes the needle.
Shoot the dye into my veins.
Shoot the die; I’m on a roll.
I’m in a role.
Radiate me, read me,
an illuminated book.

I’m told, "Hold your breath." 
I think, "I have been."
In the stillness I hear the whirr
of a thousand wings, 
angels dancing on the point of a needle.

Shadows and spots
mark my fate
on a film, just a film
between life and death.
I can see through it;
I can see the light behind it.


I will replace the car that,
like me,
breaks down occasionally.
I will buy walking shoes;
I have arisen like a Lazarus
no longer on chemo.
I will wear waistbands
that once felt like a gut punch.
I will not sport a scarf or hat
for a good long time.
I will trim the new curls,
suppressing alarm
as hair falls at my feet.
I will shave legs, if pressured.
I can no longer count on chemo
as a depilatory.
My teeth will be cleaned, 
and it will be merely unpleasant.
I will get new glasses
now that my eyesight
has made a decision.
I will exercise.
How hard can yoga be 
at the cancer center?
I will drink wine.
I will eat sushi and salads,
with no concern
for white blood cells.
Fevers will come
only with everyday illnesses
like lust and love.
I will pass as just another mortal,
forgetting for a moment
my mortality.