Snake

Crawling green and red across my breast
It bites towards my heart;
Its twin tails scraping red raw trails
And flicking stings with every twitch
It slithers through the weeping wound,
Pouring poison.

On 13 November 2005, Sandra wrote to JA:

I finally emerged from the radiotherapy treatment last Monday (very nearly didn't make it, as Roger had left the car radio on over the weekend and the car battery was flat when we came to leave for the final appointment at 8 a.m. on Monday!) I am now in the recovery stage, which means on the one hand being swollen and sore over the irradiated area (a rectangle about 12 x 8 inches across the "flat" right side of my chest, plus swelling under the adjacent armpit) but principally very tired indeed. I am sleeping about 10 hours every night and several hours during the day as well.

I shall still be keeping busy with appointments each week: this coming week I have appointments and treatments on 3 days and the following week on 4 days. Apart from hospital visits for the next few weeks I shall be going to the Chai cancer care centre on Mondays for acupuncture to see if it can help combat the terrible hot flushes which I am suffering from the Arimidex drug: upwards of a dozen a day (Chai is a Jewish charitable outfit in Hendon).

I have also joined a creative writing group which started meeting at Chai last Monday afternoon, for just 5 sessions. I have written poetry for as long as I can remember, but this is the first time I have ever had to write to order, so to speak, since writing "compositions" at school. I have discovered that, although for long years I earned my living writing first class prose (correspondence, reports, opinions, articles, drafting pleadings, etc.), when asked to write descriptively my instinct to write poetry is so strong that I can't actually write prose, so to my surprise I have actually produced three poems in quite short order as if by commission! When I was diagnosed nearly a year ago, Roger encouraged me to take up my pen and record my feelings about my experiences in poetry again. I have been producing about one finished piece a month, and there are several themes brewing. Sometimes I awake with a poem fully formed and have to write it down straight away. This is true for the latest completed piece; I awoke consumed by memories of my fear, anger and revulsion about the bloody Hickman line and wrote the short piece in almost a fury of loathing. I am attaching a copy of it here because I think you may understand it. (All my pieces are short, but this is one of the shortest!)

She also wrote to IS on 1 December 2005:

All I want to do is just sit down and have nothing more to worry about, so that I can begin to recover from the appalling experiences of the past year but here I am now back in the active fear zone. I don't know what's worse: the uncertainty or the feeling of desperation that I must now be on the inexorable downward slide that only ends one way. Certainly it is now in my mind that I have to put my affairs in order, and that I have to make time to write, as I feel a lot writing to come to the surface and even if it is poor stuff I want to finish it. I am also attaching a copy of the latest "cancer" piece which I wrote on waking one morning recently consumed by the memory of the fear, loathing and disgust I experienced with the Hickman line: I wrote it very quickly in a fury of disgust. I wish all doctors and nurses could read it. Love

Her dislike of the Hickman line started because of a very prosaic reason. The line (actually consisting of two lines, colour coded with red and green) had been placed in precisely the worst position so that it emerged from her skin directly next to the top edge of her bra, which caught on it every time she moved, causing continuous soreness and weeping. A few millimetres higher or lower and it wouldn't have given her such problems.