The Face of Lung Cancer — Eugene Polk

Eugene Polk, Jr. (Rickey) , the oldest child of eight of Chris’s grandmother , Lottie Harden Polk, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in August 2001 and died 9 months later, missing the birth of his first grandchild by four months.

Rickey was a Vietnam War veteran who served as a registered nuclear medicine technician in Germany and stateside at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Upon his discharge from the Army, he continued his training, eventually serving as the Director of Nuclear Medicine at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas.

For Rickey By- Pat (Polk) Sims

As at birth

The same at death

You struggle for life giving breath.

I watch your chest rise—but it doesn’t fall

For what seems like minutes, and I want to call

A doctor a nurse anyone who can make you breathe

And then… the gentle sound of exhaled air…you’re still here,

Though no one knows for how long.

This journey started nine months ago and at that time

We weren’t aware that it was the dawn of a life change,

The birth of an unwelcome addition to the family

That would trigger a fight filled with minor successes

Sandwiched between major setbacks, and intrusive thoughts of

“This might be our last Christmas…

You’ll never see your grandchildren…

How will Mama survive your death?”

You tried to shelter us from the truth,

Never knowing that we knew what you were up against and

Wanted to love you and believe with you

That you would beat this adversary that didn’t fight fair,

That you would be the one to survive and that

Your treatment would set a precedent that could save lives.

We became well versed in platins and T-cell counts and

Potential chemical trials and reflexology.

When you were no longer able to walk

We learned how to safely transfer you to and from your bed–

And I remember apologizing when for the first time I, the little sister,

Helped you, the big brother use the restroom

And how we rejoiced when the session ended with a big success—

You hated to admit it but the prune juice worked and

We laughed so hard we cried as we ceremoniously flushed away the “eel”!

And now it’s come to this, watching your chest rise and fall

And not wanting to admit that a ventilator

Is doing the work that you can no longer do

And that now your kidneys are shutting down

And that you are still here only by the grace of God and the power of your will.

So, I kiss you and sing to you and tell you it’s okay to stop fighting and to leave us…

You struggle for life giving breath

As at birth

And so at death.

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