Susan Cohen is a cancer survivor from Boston who resides in Stockholm. In 1989, Sue received a 40 gray radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Sue manages several long-term effects from her radiation treatment. She has complemented her standard medical treatments with naturopathic consultations and has found support from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Hodgkins International, and CancerChoices. The arts have also been invaluable sustenance for healing: art therapy with Cecilia Letmark in Sweden and poetry sessions with the UCSF Meri Center Poetic Medicine program.

“The creative expression in this painting and poetry journey supported me in approaching the original trauma of my cancer detection, diagnosis, treatment, recuperation, and life afterwards. The goal was to acknowledge and accept the feelings and emotions in my experience, aspects of the experience that were rushed past at the time, to release energy that I can put to new and fruitful purpose in my life. I share this piece as a contribution to the community conversation about the multitude of paths through cancer survivorship.”

– Sue Cohen

Why do I need space and light?
Look to the candle.
When does its flame lie low?
When does it burn high and grow?
A spark and fuel and space to fly,
it needs these to live and so do I.

Watercolor painting of crouching human form in dark pink hue within a blue rectangle


This shade is closed from dusk to dawn and back again.

Almost stopped wishing I could see a hand or bird or tree or sky outside.

Oh, come red sword and tear this indigo shade.

Come, before I forget what colors look like.

Rend a space so I can wade out of this sea of hopelessness.

So I can be dazzled again by clear air and bold hues.

Yes come, red sword, and do your needed work.

Can you hear me from inside this indigo veil of fearful anger and frozen tears?


Watercolor painting of white box, off center, surrounded by black and dark hues


Always accused of the bad, the frightening, the strange.

Consider taking a moment to be with the dark.

You might see sparks of a new star forming.

You might hear crackling seed pods bursting.

You might smell brilliant ideas burning.

Breathe and think again before only damning the dark.

Without it, we would not see deeply into light.


It’s a good cage that has captured you, fickle tumor.
Now the red sword can be done with you.
I see its gleaming edge that will cut and cut and cut again.
The sword is not gentle,
good, and friendly nice.
It shows its focused power.
Its aim is beam precise.
I learn a sharpened edge can save a precious life.
Living craves its battles,
sweat and tears and strife.


I was wrapped and I was trapped.
Then the button, it was tapped.
The burning started right on me,
I laid there pinpoint mapped.
The ray threw down its gauntlet
and drew a line in red.
Here you go no further cells,
she leaves alive not dead.
Good savior, bad savior.
40 gray was danger strong,
many tears in sad nights long.


It’s morning and here I am again,
but it’s not yesterday me again.
It’s the new me
with all my cells replaced
and my emotions rewound.
The yet-another-me me ready for today’s episode.
All these experiences strung together
form a life
or look like one
if the room is dark.
Be ready to seize the moment!
Be ready for today’s close encounter with life.
Stop waiting for the second act.
This is it.


I have a pile of past life chunks

A heavy mile high.

They come from radiation

from fear and transformation,

from when I didn’t die.

When I need energy, I’ll throw some on the fire.

Good for when I want to twist,

and when I want to shout.

Heavy chunks of side effects.

It’s hard to get them out.

When another nugget burns,

I take a deeper breath.

Bright roar the dancing flames

ever living, ever higher.

Remember don’t breathe in the smoke!

(remnant of the toxic past)

Warmth from this energy

for growing seeds to last.


Side effects, a valued cost

for a life well lived.

I got to have a journey.

At times, I’ve been on calmer seas,

at times, a boat that’s tossed.

Grateful every day that it was not

an early springtime loss.


I hope I can hold it together

when the surge of expression roars through.

No wavering or wobbling,

Stand strong to receive the message from the heart.

Hold the vessel, get the words down on paper.

It may singe some fingers now

but in coming years,

the glittering truth will be

a joy to savor.

Copyright 2023 by Susan J. Cohen. The poetry and artwork on this page are used here with the artist’s permission. Further publication or use without permission is prohibited.

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About the Author

Susan J. Cohen

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After an engineering career of over 30 years in Boston and Stockholm, Susan is now following a new path of writing, editing, and poetry. Susan has published three books of poetry, When Expression Strikes Now (2013), Messenger (2014), and Life Spring (2021).

Susan J. Cohen