The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

Storm of Words

by Hailey QuackenbushAnaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma ALK+January 9, 2024View more posts from Hailey Quackenbush

Woody Guthrie cried out

into the rising dust,


“I’ve heard a storm

of words in me” ––

A storm of words,

a hurricane of thoughts,

torrents of emotions and

twisters of feelings.

Words matter

because they have power—

and like a storm,

they can shake a foundation

and be the things that both


and build

a soul.


I can recall the power

of the disappointed words

of friends who didn’t understand

why I was too sick to go on a camping trip,

their harsh syllables and edges

knocking into me like bumper cars,

the healthy, youthful bodies of the mouths that flung them

driving off into sunrises and adventure

as I was left behind with the tinny echoes of phrases

like “canceling” and “backing out”

banging around in my skull,

guilt thumping in my chest.

Or the ignorant, self-righteous words

of the self-proclaimed “expert”

who holds simultaneous degrees of “knowledge”

from Woo-Woo College and YouTube University,

telling me that if I would only just

“go on a juice cleanse”,

my cancer would be “cured”;

These irritating ticks of the tongue

settle to the pit of my stomach like a festering termite,

and before long begin growing to the size of a whole colony,

gnawing at me,

bubbling and building up

‘til I feel almost ready to burst

like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful.


And then there are the words

that were never said,

settling around me like ghostly dust

on a collection of forgotten childhood toys

in an attic—

Friends (or people I thought I was close enough with to be considered such)

who never even called

or wrote

or sent a single text.

I mean, I could die—

we ALL could—

but I guess the possibility

of a life slipping away

is not always as easy

or appealing

to grasp

as the newest internet trend

or the blissfully optimistic beckonings

of care-free teen-and-20-something escapades.

(And, speaking of which, please no one tell me

that I’m on a “journey”

unless you are also handing me a plane ticket

to somewhere fun and exotic.)

And IF cancer is what ends up killing me,

I hope people do not say things like

“he lost his battle” or “he lost the fight”—

because there is nothing “winning” or “losing” about it;

sometimes, it just IS,

it’s just biology,

it’s random;

and the fascinating paradox of it all will always remain

that these tiny, miniscule cellular activities

are somehow also so much bigger

than any of us,

and sometimes we’ve really no much more say

in any of it

than seeds

dispersed into the



And it’s okay

if sometimes you don’t know what to say—


even the power

or weight

of a word

or its absence

isn’t enough

and that’s okay—


simply the weight

of just your being there

is enough.


because How do you find the words

for an experience

that feels too big

to be summed up by them?

How do you describe

the vastness of feeling

and how can you possibly accurately sketch

a properly-detailed rendering

of the landscape

of a human mind?

And how can you conjure the existence

of any word

that would come anywhere near to doing justice

to capturing the gravity of a situation

that throws a life

so heavily out of orbit?


All my life,

I’ve heard a storm

of words in me,

and though these words have pushed

my pencil across miles and miles of paper,

sometimes it is still

not enough

to keep up with

or capture

the even bigger storms

and tidal waves

of emotion,







How can I truly let it be known

just how much I love those who are important to me?

How can I fully describe the way

my heart feels as though it—

and then the rest of me—

would implode

and then shatter into glass

if you were to one day be gone;

or the way my whole body sings

and bubbles like champagne

when you smile,

your laughter the sun on my skin.

How do I ever fully fathom into words or

etch into ink

the extreme and overwhelming love

that sometimes surges over me

so fast and so warm and so

unbelievably complicated

and also so unbelievably


that I can barely stand it?


And to Dr. Hawkins and Nate and Tina and Dr. Maya and Jana and Dr. Lamble and Fred

and every single one of my doctors and nurses and technicians:

How does one ever really adequately say

thank you


saving a life?

And to everyone else:

How does one ever really adequately say

thank you

for making a life

worth living?


Words are one of our best and most profound attempts

to transcend space,


brainwaves, minds—

and yet,

sometimes they are still not enough.

How can I possibly ever say

everything I want to say

during such a short

and fragile stay

upon this planet?

The Universe is so vast

and I want to fill

every corner of it

with longing

and the knowing

of all of these things,

all of these feelings,

all of THIS

that sometimes makes my body

feel like it will explode from the pressure,

spreading bright and hot

and shimmering

across this infinite tapestry.

But light

and sound

and intention

can only travel so many lightyears so fast

and space is expanding

as my time

is doing the opposite.


And still,

I’ve heard a storm

of words in me—

so batten down the hatches

and start the generators

because as long as I am here

I intend to continue

to do my best

to let it pour

and blow

and WAIL.

And as long as I am here,

I suppose I also might as well try my best

to learn how to dance

in the rain.

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