After the Tone, Please Don’t Leave a Message

Gilda's Club April 24, 2019

In the fall of 2018, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities launched the LISTEN/™ Dear Cancer Teen Essay Contest* to elevate the voices of teens impacted by cancer. Middle and high school teens (ages 13-19) impacted by cancer, either through their own diagnosis or through a friend or family member, wrote essays in their own voice – reflecting their personal experiences with cancer – insights, original thoughts, and lessons learned.

Grace Wethor, an 11th grader living with a brain tumor, submitted a free verse poem titled “After the Tone, Please Don’t Leave a Message”. After our panel of celebrity judges screened a very competitive field of submissions, Grace was selected as the winner of the 2019 LISTEN/™ Dear Cancer Teen Essay Contest for high school students living with cancer. Grace was also kind enough to perform this free verse poem at our annual fundraising breakfast on April 23, 2019. Watch her powerful performance or read the full text of her winning poem below.

After The Tone, Please Don’t Leave A Message
A Free Verse Poem by Grace Wethor

Dear Cancer,
I never thought I would know your name.
In the land of my childhood, you would quickly become a celebrity.
Whispered about around every corner;
documented for the most mundane doings.

I never thought, not in a million years,
that you would make a pitstop to visit my family on your road trip of havoc.
That I would watch you infiltrate your way into my mind and brain.
An uninvited guest. An unwanted roommate.
“Why me?” I asked.
I had to ask, as your long-term stay in Hotel Grace never made sense to me…
or the doctors.

I was once told you were lighting my brain on fire.
With a flick of your dainty wrist, you would strike your match and ignite a flame.
An explosion erupting all the way to the sky,
shaking the walls and the ceiling.

Dear Cancer,
You dug yourself a grave,
buried yourself deep down.
Too far down to be reached by the metal scalpel of a surgeon
or by the clear drips of a medication. Coward.
Why didn’t you settle on the surface and fight a battle if you’re as strong as they say?

It’s been four years since we were first introduced to each other.
Well, since I was introduced to you.
I’m unsure of how long you were lurking in the shadows.
Stalking me, waiting for me to notice your small offerings left on the outside of my body, your home.

You moved in quite quickly.
However, ever since you’ve been very civil and abiding.
Paying your rent on time. Sitting quietly and still.
No noise complaints from your neighbors so far.
However, please know you are not wanted here.
You’ve been served an eviction notice. Please remove all belongings.

Dear Cancer,
I’ve read about your ways from many different books.
Viewed you from many different angles.
Seen your work on many different patients.
I’ve sat back quietly and watched you melt the hair off of my friends.
Watch you stitch up their shattered skulls with precision.
I’ve watched you take them on vacations far far away.
Watched them fly; you their co-pilot.

No one can quite figure out your personality.
Quite shy in many situations, but often boisterous and loud around company.
Jumping around like a hot potato, or IT in a game of tag.
You have no path or specific traits.
You change daily, waking up with a new identity.
Camouflaging your true intentions, you put on your crimson mask.
Sometimes you leave early, sometimes you’re the last one at the party.
Your pattern is unpredictable.

Dear Cancer,
I don’t know why you picked me to become your best friend.
Why you felt the need to be a part of my story.
Locked a friendship bracelet around my wrist and threw away the key.
As love-hate as our relationship is,
I’m glad you decided to knock on my door that cold January night so long ago.
To say hello. To force me to grow.
To help me find my purpose
and to learn that I am way stronger than

End of message. To delete this message press 7. Goodbye.

©2019 Gilda’s Club Twin Cities

*In 2016, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities launched an arts-based initiative to provide creative opportunities to elevate our members’ voices and a platform to share their stories. The journey started with LISTEN/™ Stories of Cancer told through Movement, Music, and Voice – a performance created in partnership with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT) and directed by SPDT Artistic Co-Director Suzanne Costello. Twin Cities Public Television documented the process and produced a 26-minute documentary called LISTEN/Stories of Cancer and Resilience – that aired in February 2018 and was nominated for an Upper Midwest EMMY. Watch the documentary here.