Poem: “Phantom Pain”


Phantom Pain

My oncologist calls It “Phantom Pain”

She says the second year is worse than the first

The brain begins to process what has happened

She also calls It “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”

Pain by any other name still hurts

The trauma is not over–

it has just begun….

The guidelines

for this particular phase

are what is out of order

Where are the pink pamphlets

With beautiful women

Losing all the weight, and

Remembering all their words?

There’s no treatment plan

for ReEntry,

for New Normal

I still need to talk about things,

someone to talk to.

I want those make-ups and massages

I need help with these tamoxifen hot flashes

and the numbness in my hands

Now is when I need understanding about how I look and feel

and the things I forget, the times I fall, the mistakes I make.

Old Normal has apparently vacated the premises

so the big fat New Normal Ghosts could move in.

We are just getting acquainted

It’s a very dicey transition


I thought it was my Left Breast

that was partially amputated,

Instead the twenty pound Phantom

and some of It’s Friends

moved into my head.

Neuropathy?—where is that located

Prefrontal cortex- Focus…plan…control impulse

Deep Limbic system—bonding, mood control

Cingulate—gear shifter

Basal ganglia—Temples, temporal lobes, memory, language, facial recognition, temper control—


They must all be broken because I should be fucking mad,

Or fucking,

Or laughing…

and I’m not

I’m cooking, burning, and freezing

I teach myself how to hold the paintbrush again

And my husband,

And the espresso pot


Every incision, scar and skid mark

sneaks on board another Entity

that resides where Something Else once did

Something taken for granted,

but not any more—

now that It’s gone


There are no pain pills for the haunting and the stumbling

Zolpidem has been banished,

We were together too many nights, too many months,

So now I feel this other diaphanous Intruder

when I’m struggling to sleep

and when I’m awake


My oncologist—whom I love and respect, absolutely revere

tells me to trust that there is nothing there,

It’s Phantom Pain

But I see in her pretty eyes

that truly, madly, deeply,


she knows,

And I know….

We both know

Ghosts are real.


Viola Moriarty, 2008

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viola moriarty

(American, b. 1958)
Modern Expressionist Painter
2012-13 Recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant

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