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Poetry and Medicine
March 22/29, 2006

Cancer Prayer

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2006;295(12):1346. doi:10.1001/jama.295.12.1346

Tell me please, how to be cavalier
after twenty years of treating patients
with arrogant adjectives, with verbs
too powerful to be comprehensible,
and nouns with such innocent sounds—
lymphoma, melanoma, breast
cancer—that they shatter my ears.
Hope is sometimes a puddle
of stale rainwater for a parched mouth,
though I must continue to pray.
I pray that the power that makes genetic strands
proliferate aberrantly allows us to reverse it,
to discover a gene insertion to correct
each untoward event, and if not, then just today,
I pray that the little boy with Wilms tumor
will have no side effects from his chemotherapy,
that this one woman with ovary cancer
in room 1122, will have a complete remission.
The word cure, dear God, is always
near my lips, though I have been constrained from
saying it aloud. Allow me at least to think it.

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