“Relapsed and Refractory”: An Original Poem About Strength in the Face of Uncertainty

“Relapsed and Refractory”: An Original Poem About Strength in the Face of Uncertainty

Guest Commentary

Nov 16, 2021

Dr. Alankrita Taneja headshotBy Alankrita Taneja, MBBS

Around the time I started my hematology-oncology fellowship, I had been reading The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. As I was learning to break bad news, I realized how the spiritual concepts mentioned in the book are so important for our patients. Despite facing an uncertain, sometimes losing battle against an aggressive malignancy, our patients are learning—and teaching us—the hard spiritual truth about living each day and each moment as it comes while surrendering control of the outcome.


Relapsed and Refractory


You've been waiting for a while

Sitting calmly on the examination table

You finally see me and attempt to smile

I smile back and say hello


As I look into your eyes

For a moment I am mesmerized

For in your eyes,

I can see that you're afraid,

Afraid of failing yet another battle

Afraid of dying.

I can see that you're tired,

Tired of waiting for good news

Tired of trying.

You've been fighting for so long

But despite all that has transpired

Your faith transcends reason

In your eyes, I see hope

You have persevered through

Failure that you endured repeatedly

(Or have we failed you?)

Behind your eyes,

There is a calm despite the storm-

The rising tumor markers,

The progression on the CT scan.

I can see you're disappointed, yet unfazed

In your eyes,

There is a wisdom so profound

That despite it all,

You're still breathing, you're still alive

In this moment and in the now.

Maybe happiness does not always

Imply a cure?


So I look at your labs and review your scans

I tell you what you probably already knew

"I am sorry, your cancer has progressed

We will have to try something new"


Dr. Taneja is a hematology-oncology fellow at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Follow her on Twitter @TanejaMDDisclosure.


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