Poem #5: Map, Ode, Metaphor

The original melanoma site after it was punched out and stitched.
The original melanoma site after it was punched out and stitched.

An Ode to a Lymph Node

By Paula Bender

A living map beneath my skin,
Red arteries flowing away, blue veins toward
The heart, command central,
Pulsing between my lungs,
Refreshing, reinvigorating blood cells.

There are backroads as well,
That are no less significant.
They sweep and they catch
Pathogens, fats and delinquents.
My gratitude to my lymphatic system,
Courier of lymph fluid, pathogens, white cells.

And Cancer.

A melanoma took root behind my right knee
Just a bump that I felt before I could see.
Punched out, the biopsy was declared malignant.
I went from Stage 1 to Stage 3 in less than a minute.

Scans for my brain, spine, bones and body,
Gave no indication there were others at the party.
But then a beautiful turquoise dye was sent searching,
Disclosing the pathway that this cancer might have gone lurking.

The dye found its way to my nodes to the north,
A chain of fatty pearls just doing their work.
One lit up, a tell-tale sign,
Gorgeous and blue, this lymph node of mine.
This was the sentinel with a job to do,
It held captive that cancer without further ado.

Microscopic melanoma was enclosed in the node,
Which served as gatekeeper in protector mode.
It had taken the cancer and kept it enclosed,
It kept me from being even more exposed.

People ask me how I found that first melanoma.
I had noticed it for months. But I was going to Kona.
I was busy training for my race: Swim, bike, run.
I didn’t want a little skin spot to spoil my fun.

Days after my race to dermatology I went,
I tore off my clothes and put on a paper tent.
A lighted magnifying glass examined every inch of skin,
While we talked about my decades in the surf and the swim.
I turned around and it was easy to spot,
Soon it was punched out and into a cup it was dropped.

My tale might have meandered.
But my message you see,
Is that maps not only send us to where we must be,
They also can show us what it is that we need.



Author: lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Learners Coordinator and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.

11 thoughts on “Poem #5: Map, Ode, Metaphor”

  1. I hung on your ever word. Relieved and grateful (for how it turned out)!!!

    I love your idea of writing an ode to your lymphatic system, a most understated hero!

    At the same time, you inspired me to consider writing odes (as an exercise in appreciation and awe) to other aspects of our biology and anatomy!

  2. Thank you for this. Poetry demands we deal with our fears. It shows the world we are brave. It really is as raw as we can be.

  3. I love how after the line about cancer, the poem falls right into verse. In stead of making light of the situation, the words you chose and the pictures they create underscore the severity of a cancer diagnosis. Well done!

  4. It is a very beautiful ode to your savior and protector and a tribute to life.
    I truly enjoyed yours. Brava!
    And I am very happy for you that you found and fought back, and are here to tell the tale.
    Cheers to your life!

  5. I live in Boston and we are in the midst of something called Hub Week — sponsored by Mass General Hospitals, MIT and a few others…..with lectures, documentaries, art….in many venues, bringing world experts and local experts together in a myriad of fields. I was privileged to attend, two nights ago, a lecture on Doctor/Patient/Personal Health Narratives. It was about the power and healing of writing — not the medical reports or journal writing….but personal health narratives. It was a wonderful discussion — and I see it here in your attention to detail, feelings, and words.

    Especially the one single line that stands alone: “And Cancer”.

    Thank you for sharing. Keep writing.

    I’m so glad I met you in this WP Writing 201 class.

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