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Delivered a 10% prognosis for survival, Dr. Dianne Silvestri surrenders her white coat for a hospital gown and a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. Aided by her attentive medical team, family, and friends, she navigates the surreal world of chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, and subsequent threats from graft vs. host disease and serious infections from weakened immunity. With a clear eye for irony and analogy and a commitment to curiosity and truth, Silvestri writes through her struggles and victories. She gives us poems with unique perspectives, fresh images, and unquenchable optimism in her perseverance to redefine life beyond what was lost.
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Dianne Silvestri, MD is a graduate of Butler University and Indiana University School of Medicine. She was associate professor of dermatology at UMass Chan Medical School until leukemia forced her retirement. She has studied poetry at workshops including Tupelo, PoemWorks, and Colrain, and authored the chapbook Necessary Sentiments. Her poems have appeared in Journal of the American Medical Association, Barrow Street, The Main Street Rag, and Naugatuck River Review, among others. She is a past Pushcart Prize nominee, and cofounder and leader of the Morse Poetry Group in Massachusetts. The mother of four and grandmother of seven, she enjoys gardening and ballroom dancing with her husband. www.diannesilvestri.com
Dianne Silvestri’s fine lyric poems are written with the clear vision of the physician who herself becomes the patient with a serious illness (“beached / my white coat / surrendered”). She travels with honesty and courage her “long / essential diversion” from the everyday of her life. There is the night phone call with bad news (“I endure for the verdict at dawn”), followed by the complicated journey through pain, treatments, fears, losses, consolations, leading to a “first-ditch list” of hopes. An inspiring, merciful, beautifully written collection.
—Ann Taylor, author of Sortings
Dianne Silvestri is known for her diagnostic savvy, therapeutic smarts, and compassion. In this book, she triumphs, not only with a survivor’s pluck, but with tantalizing juxtapositions: word to word, sentence to sentence, idea to idea.
—Jeffrey D. Bernhard, MD, FRCP (Edin), Professor Emeritus, UMass Chan Medical School
Some things must be experienced to be fully understood. Love. A perfectly ripe slice of watermelon on a summer day. Cancer and a stem cell transplant. Dianne Silvestri beautifully opens the door into this reality. Fellow transplant survivors like me will feel a deep camaraderie with her as she speaks of her experience.
At times stark and even dark, her poems express the shock of diagnosis and the ravages of treatment. The final line in “Daunorubicin”—“Oh crimson savage, leave me alive!”—took me back to those torturous days of neverending nausea. And yet, these poems are often funny and full of hope. Silvestri introduces us to her IV pole, George, and forgives this new friend when he nips at her ankles. With words real and raw, she lays bare the fear of not surviving, the struggles of new life in survival, and the joys of reclaiming mundane tasks like grocery shopping. Her question to her donor in “Dear Healthy 28-Year-Old Man” brought me to my knees: “Whoever you are, will your sacrifice be worthwhile?”
People often ask me how I got through three fights with stage 4 blood cancer, saying they don’t think they could do it. This collection of poems lights the way through.
—Dianne Callahan, motivational speaker and author of Lighthearted Life and the forthcoming Journey through Illness
The Night Phlebotomist
The corridors seethe with nocturnal predators,
their voices low.
My door latch coughs, a figure hisses,
I’ve come to draw blood,
wrenches my arm like a lamb shank,
rasps it with alcohol, plunges her spike,
pops one color-coded, rubber-stoppered
vial after another into the sheath,
unplugs each loaded one to add
to the crimson log pile weighting my thigh,
steals more, it seems, than ought to be ample
from this provisional liquor of my life.
from “You May Resume Your Normal Activities”
I must hide these mulberry stains,
this shearable, translucent skin
(tissue-thin, plum cushion, battered twin),
my inner space flash-fry or cry mode,
but worst, my replaced face
(unknown phase, fallout trace, sheer disgrace),
from cortisone blown wide
to a visage I don’t recognize
(rude disguise, unsought prize, close your eyes) . . .
I am now my proxy,
a mirage of me
swirling with sap
of a different DNA,
my vacant marrow
waiting for adopted
cells to populate,
while I pray for a truce
who quarrel like siblings.
but confined, too strained
to name it repose,
more like perpetually
But I Still Have My Fingerprints
Dianne Silvestri, MD
Pub date – November 2022
Trade paper – 6 x 9″
Emerging Voices – Poetry
5 Horizon Road, #2403
Fort Lee, New Jersey 07024
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