I’ve Learned to Be Strong

This poem reflects the effects of cancer on loved ones. 

By Lily Kangas

Published 4:12 EST, Sunday December 12th, 2021

This poem reflects the effects of cancer on loved ones. 

My grandmother, Gibs, was unstoppable.

She’d burst into a room wearing one of her signature floral dresses,

Her socks mismatched, 

Her shoelaces untied.

How’s it hanging, Jezebel? 

She’d say everytime she hurried by my bedroom door. 

She was a true crime fanatic. 

On Thursday nights we’d snuggle beneath her cold silk sheets and watch one, 

or maybe two, 

or maybe three episodes of Dateline. 

I could never fall asleep afterwards.

She was a poster child of optimism.

She stained her white shirt? Now it has a pop of color! 

I broke her favorite porcelain vase?  What a perfect excuse to get a new one!

She was tough.

Her skin was textured with elevated scars. 

It’s badass she’d always say. 

One time she fell and punctured her lung. 

She didn’t cry. 

I asked her why not. 

Because, Jezebel, she’d say, I’ve learned to be strong.

Now, I look down at her skinny body.

An IV bag labeled “chemo” dangles above. 

Her hair- or what’s left of it- is matted and thin. 

Her floral dresses are strewn across the couch next to her bed. 

Her mismatched socks are replaced by dull grey ones with grips on the bottom. 

Ready for some Dateline? I whisper in her ear on Thursdays. 

She’s too weak to respond. 

I play the show anyway. 

I can’t help but feel angry. 

Of the 7.86 billion people on earth, she deserves this the least.

She always said everything happens for a reason. 

I’m trying to believe it. 

As much as I want to break down, I know I can’t. 

I can’t because it’s my turn. 

It is my turn to be her “Gibs” and to help her in the many ways she has helped me. 

And when my little sister asks me how I’ve managed to keep myself together, I’ll say I’ve learned to be strong.

Lily Kangas, Youth Medical Journal 2021


By Lily Kangas

Lily Kangas is a student at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, California. She is interested in all STEM fields, specifically medicine, neuroscience, and psychology.

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