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Words for the Fight

For those fighting a battle with illness, hope can be found in surprising places. Katy Bowser Hutson writes her way to hope.


Words for the Fight

By Katy Bowser Hutson


One of the worst days of my life followed one of the best weeks. I’d just completed a week at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, courtesy of a scholarship from the Sustainable Arts Foundation for artists with young children. After a long stretch of homeschooling young children, writing music, and holding down the fort while my husband was on the road playing music, this week was a gift from God: a week to rest, write, learn, and make plans for my next creative steps when I returned home. To drag out the trope, little did I know . . .

That evening, as I got ready for bed at a friend’s house in Boston, I saw warning signs on my body: my breast was hot, swollen, puckered. Within a week I was in chemotherapy for a rare, aggressive cancer called inflammatory breast cancer.

I felt an immediate awareness that there was no accident in the timing. The week of honing my writing skills had given me tools in my arsenal for this battle. God had filled me in a way I didn’t even know I would need.

In his book The Body Keeps the Score, psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk notes that trauma is preverbal. There is a special medicine to putting words to terrible things. I wrote through all of it: to face fear, to say it out loud, to pray, to fling it all away from me. My hope is that my writings cross paths with someone who could use these words. Every cancer story is different. Maybe there are moments in here that resonate, that help. I hope so.




Cancer is an overgrowth, a kudzu:

Tangling and strangling legitimate life.

Chemo is a killing, a burning out:

Burning down to ashy carbon, indiscriminately.

But cancer, did you know that I am a poet?

My job is to cull through the chaos

with tweezers and magnifier.

I have wings

On shoulder blades and ankles

Just big enough for hovering me inches above the terrain,

Traversing without smothering my subject.

With pen and pocket and fingers and eyes

I cipher meaning

Siphoning liquid beauty that seeps from the edges

Into a tiny vial;

Taking pains with my pain: it fruits sweetly.

If in this year’s ravaging I eke an ounce of beauty

It will outweigh all of your ashy remnant.

I can paste it on my footsoles

And stick me to the incinerated earth

Where I will wait for the rich loam

Tear soaked and fertile, to live.

That is what poets do, cancer.

Adapted from Now I Lay Me Down to Fight  by Katy Bowser Hutson. ©2023 by Katherine Jane Hutson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.


Katy Bowser Hutson is a forming member of the children's band Rain for Roots. Her latest book is Now I Lay Me Down to Fight: A Poet Writes Her Way Through Cancer. She is the coauthor with Tish Harrison Warren and Flo Paris Oakes of Little Prayers for Ordinary Days, and a contributing author to It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God and Wild Things and Castles in the Sky. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Kenny, and their two children.



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