“Tamoxifen 20mg tablets”  – a poem about a common hormone treatment for breast cancer.

It’s ten years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital (sitting in the hessian chair mentioned below). It’s a big anniversary – I’ve been up and down emotionally as a result – but I was buoyed this weekend by a reunion of the good friends I made in an online forum for those who started chemo in June 2013. Eleven of us met in Cambridge, and it was celebratory, sad, defiant – many of us are still living with the aftereffects of our treatment – but we are alive, and having lost some dear friends, we know that is the main thing.

I’ve been taking Tamoxifen for almost ten years, too. My side effects have been tolerable. When I wrote this poem, it was still early days; at time of first publication in Wristwatch the number of pills I’d taken was a mere 500. When I perform this poem at readings, I always update the number – and I’ve done the same here.

Tamoxifen 20mg tablets
(Take one daily for ten years.)

3,285 of you down the hatch so far — 
I pop you from green film,
oval crevice on one side
inscrutable as a cat’s iris.

I no longer read your potential, 
spelled out in minuscule print, 
and folded into every box. 
I know well what you do to me:  

skin thins, cracks; the hot seethe
rises through me exactly like terror 
of hospital ceilings, the doctor’s serious face, 
the box of tissues, the worn hessian chair. 

© Jay Whittaker. All rights reserved.

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