Wednesday, 15 May 2013

On the Incredible Self-Empowerment of Naming Things

Like many men, I was terrified of getting prostate cancer in my later years. Shortly after my 65th birthday, in the spring of 2011, I was, yes, diagnosed with prostate cancer and began hormone therapy.

Although I feel fine (most days) I have had some really weird dreams. The one on which this poem is based was so vivid that I got out of bed in the early hours and made a few notes before I could forget the whole thing. Sometimes I can get back into my dreams, but not on this occasion. As soon as my head hit the pillow again, I was fast asleep. If I had another dream, I don’t remember it.

I eventually woke up around 7:00 am in a cold sweat, vaguely disturbed yet also oddly elated. I felt as if I had ridden the gamut from youth to old age in a matter of seconds and been washed up on a sunny beach, my trusty white steed and me. (I love walking by the sea…)   

Above a louder and even more splendid than usual dawn chorus, I fancied someone was calling a name. In the cold light of day, I couldn’t hear what name, but somehow knew it wasn’t mine; not this time anyway. 

I sat up in bed and said aloud, ‘I have prostate cancer.’

Perhaps that is what the dream was all about, giving my ‘illness’ a name so I needn’t be afraid of it anymore?

Some hours later I caught a train and soon found myself walking by the sea in Brighton (East Sussex). I have done this so many times for so many years, yet those so familiar surroundings seemed like something out of a dream that day, and I felt so much the more reassured for it.

Naming our fears helps us confront them, all the better to get on with living without being distracted by a sense of constantly doing battle with an invisible enemy.


I rode a white horse to a castle gate
left wide open;
its drawbridge down, I rode right on
and banged at the door;
noise resounded like the weeping
of some tortured wretch

No one answered. I called a greeting
and the door groaned ajar;
not a friendly soul in sight, I entered
the Great Hall where a banquet
called for celebration of someone’s life
(alive or dead?)

Trestle tables were piled high with food
of every description,
yet no one ate from a single silver plate
or drank from silver goblets;
every throne-like chair remained emptier
than a beggar’s pockets

My horse snorted and reared as if sensing
a curse had been laid upon us;
I lost my grip and tumbled to a stone floor
as cold as a wintry sea;
frantic, I heard the wretch let fly my name
on waves of terror

I swam centuries before finally recovering
my surf board, soon lay panting
at the gate of a sandcastle left wide open,
listening to a poor wretch weeping,
wondering who it could be and how on earth
he knew my name

My horse snorted and reared as if sensing
a curse had been lifted from us;
I leapt into the saddle, rode out of the gate
into brilliant sunshine among children
playing sandcastles, but none likely to last
as long as mine

Copyright R. N. Taber 2010; 2013

[Note: I have posted other poems on the subject of my prostate cancer. Consequently, several readers have been in touch about their own concerns. While always ready to express an opinion, I never give advice, and obviously am not qualified to offer any medical advice anyway. However, if you ever feel you need psychological/emotional support or have any general questions about dealing with it you are welcome to contact me - with 'Prostate cancer' in the subject field.

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