Reflections of a Cancer Diagnosis in a New Book of Poetry: Mid-Bloom

by Katie Budris

Cancer has long impacted the women in my family, starting with my grandmother, then my mother, and now me. When I was 10, my grandmother moved in with us along with a live-in nurse to help my mother care for her until cancer and old age took her life. When I was 12, my mother was diagnosed with lymphoma, and after a very short remission and several rounds of experimental treatment, she passed. I was 15 when my mother died, and she was only 54. The doctors kept telling her how unusual her cancer was for someone her age, how confused they were. This should have been my warning sign. 

About a month after I turned 36, I felt a lump in my breast and it was confirmed as cancer. The whirlwind of chemo, surgery, and radiation began, followed by survivorship side effects including cardiomyopathy and lymphedema swelling in my left arm. I was grateful to have the support of my husband, my extended family, and my friends through treatment, but the person I really wanted was my mom.

I think it’s a pretty natural reaction to want your mom when you’re sick, but I wanted something more specific from her. I wanted to know what kinds of chemo she had received and what her side effects were. I wanted to know how she was able to keep being a mom to a teenage girl while in treatment. I wanted to know how she put on a brave face in front of her piano students, even in the last few months of her life. I wanted to know how she managed the swelling in her leg and if she found anything to help reduce it and increase her mobility. I wanted to relate to her. I wanted someone who understood what I was going through, but even more so I wanted her to know that I understood.

I’ve been writing about my mom’s cancer and death for over twenty years now. I find it nearly impossible to get right. Most of the poems and essays have gone through countless drafts, and some of them will remain drafts forever. But when the dust began to settle from my own cancer experience, I knew I had to write about it. Not just about my own experience, but as a way of connecting with my mom again.

The result is a new chapbook of poetry titled Mid-Bloom which will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2021. The title poem reflects on gardening with my mom when I was a kid, helping plant flowers all around the house, and how she prepared me in small ways to go on without her.

Some poems explore my mom’s cancer, like “Relapse,” which imagines how she felt when she resumed smoking near the end of her life, sneaking cigarettes in the bathroom so my dad and I wouldn’t know. Others explore my own, like “Chemotherapy: Day 17,” which is about the day my husband and I shaved my head. In the final poem of the chapbook, “If Things Were Otherwise,” I imagine what it would be like to talk to my mom now, to ask her all those questions I wish I could ask and to tell her that she didn’t have to be so strong. 

She never let on when she was in pain, or feeling nauseous, or when she was afraid. And even though I was only 15 when she died, in retrospect I like to think I could have handled the truth and that it might have helped me feel less alone now. Because of this, I’ve tried to be as open as possible about my own experiences, through my poems, blogging, and my advocacy work with Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I feel more connected to her either way, bonded by our shared experiences decades apart. I hope these poems are relatable to others too, those with cancer, those who have lost someone to cancer, or those longing to have one last conversation with someone who was taken from them too soon, life cut short in “mid-bloom.” 

Rain Turns to Snow

Like the last day

I would see you. Smiling—


Wheels skidding on ice

as I push you from parking lot


to in-patient. Your hand

suddenly becomes a child’s


slipping out of its protective

mitten, palm catching


the flakes, twisting

with awe as if the air carries


radiation. Your eyes reflect

in icicles dangling


off doorways. I pause, there,

creeping up the sidewalk


despite bitter cold, try to memorize

your face, reborn, healed


by snow, so that later,

as I watch you die,


watch your breath become

ice, slowing, freezing, I


will remember you

like this. In wonder.


As if you know.

As if comforting me


in advance, saying—“Now, now.

There, there.”


first published in River & South Review

Learn more and order Katie’s chapbook Mid-Bloom through Finishing Line Press at:


About the author: Katie Budris holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University and her poems have appeared in over a dozen journals, most recently Deep Wild Journal, River and South Review, Philadelphia Stories, Border Crossing, Temenos Journal, and the anthology Crossing Lines (Main Street Rag). She has two chapbooks of poetry, Mid-Bloom (2021) and Prague in Synthetics (2015), both published by Finishing Line Press. Katie is a Senior Lecturer in the Writing Arts Department at Rowan University where she serves as Editor in Chief of Glassworks literary magazine. She is a breast cancer survivor living in South Jersey with her husband, Chris, and their English Mastiffs, Harper and Winnie.

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