Marking Time - A Chronicle of Cancer by VALERIE VOLK

A diagnosis of cancer evokes strong feelings, from the first disbelief and confusion through stages of fear and distress, sometimes anger, and always uncertainty about what the next day will bring. Marking Time – A Chronicle of Cancer is a record of this time, offered by a writer who has navigated the road, in the hope that those reading it will feel less alone.

"Beautiful, brave and achingly personal. A moving account of a journey through lymphoma, revealing thankfulness, love and joy in the darkest circumstances. An inspiring peal of hope for all on the cancer journey. I wish I could have read it when travelling the same road."

Dr Rosanne Hawke, former Senior Lecturer Tabor Adelaide, writer of The Messenger Bird, Riding the Wind, Marrying Ameera

Read more reviews and collapse each review by clicking on the title.


COMMENT: Lincoln Size, Chief Executive, Cancer Council SA.

Valerie Volk has written a poignant collection of poems that will help an individual who is currently living with, or supporting someone through, a cancer diagnosis. The writing captures the emotions that arise so that individuals may reflect on their own circumstances and find comfort. 
Lincoln Size, Chief Executive, Cancer Council SA

COMMENT: Dr Aidan Coleman, poet and academic, author of Avenues & Runways, Assymetry, Mount Sumptuous

In poems of poise and moving eloquence Valerie Volk chronicles her partner’s precarious battle with lymphoma. The poet casts a cold eye on the agonies and ironies of the disease, while celebrating the fleeting pleasures that can be taken – suddenly more glorious in their concentration. Written from the viewpoint of the lover, who is intimately involved but largely powerless, this is a tough, unsentimental poetry, both stoic in its acceptance of what must be and richly life-affirming. 
Dr Aidan Coleman, poet and academic, author of Avenues & Runways, Asymmetry, Mount Sumptuous 

COMMENT:  Dr Rosanne Hawke  - Introduction:

Valerie Volk’s poetry never disappoints and A Chronicle of Cancer is no exception. This is a beautiful and transparently honest, brave and moving narrative of a journey through lymphoma, a beautiful word, as Volk observes, though deadly. First, there is the incredulous prognosis, then the limbo, the waiting, the fear, the confinement, inability to eat, losing hair, weight and energy. Above all, the learning of patience, and the thankfulness for love, the quiet gift amongst it all. Perceptive images personify chemo and cancer cells: coiled snakes, a battleground, military tactics, pulling weeds out by the roots; how the canker in Hamlet now has a more sinister meaning, but Hercules fighting the many-head Hydra and winning gives cause for hope. There is suffering but Volk also provides humour: jokes in the chemo ward and riding the chemo-go-round. It goes round and round, up and down and never stops. Yet there is joy in the simple, ordinary things. A nest of birds offers new meaning; just holding one another in the night is enough; the desire to dance at the word, ‘remission’. The most poignant moment for me is ringing the ‘ship’s bell’ at the end of chemo, a sign of remission, of victory – a peal of hope for all. I wish I could have read this when we were travelling the same road and I know A Chronicle of Cancer will be an inspiration for those still on the journey and for those who want to understand and care.
Rosanne Hawke, writer and academic

REVIEW: Grace Bock, Editor, Lutheran Women, December 2020


MARKING TIME  -  A Chronicle of Cancer


Everybody is touched by cancer – be it family, friends, or acquaintances. Marking Time is a wonderful collection of verse that describes the first diagnosis through the stages to the hoped-for remission. Most beautifully written, it is deeply moving in sadness, patience, loneliness, and hope.

 The ‘Book Club in the Mallee’ has had some of its members read and then pick the poem that spoke to them the most. The following are some of their thoughts.


Cancer Gardening         As I sit here in the sun looking at my ‘sun-baked bricks’ I see the weeds between them. These are much too small to pull out, so I will spray them. I can relate to this poem of Valerie’s as she scrapes and tugs at the weeds. But her thoughts are elsewhere, as she thinks of her loved one in the cancer ward dealing with chemotherapy hopefully destroying those cancer cells. She relates the weeds to the cancer and if she pulls the weed out totally – that’s victory! BUT if the roots break, that’s different – some cancer is left behind. Her neighbours see her on hands and knees and her folly of pulling out the weeds instead of spraying, but Valerie sees each weed that comes out whole as a victory. Another cancer cell DEAD! J.T.

 Little Demons    Very well written. Sums up cancer well, and the feelings it brings. The word ‘incredulous’ is particularly descriptive. B.F.

 Quo Vadis         Where are you marching?    Where are you going?               I particularly like Quo Vadis as it, in a way, describes life. We need each other, as life is an uncertain sea, we don’t know where the currents will take us … but we are stronger together … with our family, friends and community. The future is unknown, and at times we are like children afraid of the dark, but we need courage to overcome and face challenges … as Mark Twain says: ‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear’. M.S.

 Marking Time:  A beautiful book of poems full of special meaning for those going through the ravages of cancer. I couldn’t pick just one. The tears just flowed. A.H.

 Evening at Home            A poem of peace. A poem of relief. A poem of happiness. A poem of looking ahead with confidence. A poem of gratitude to God. Thanks. J.E.


REVIEW: Pat Patt, Editor, Tamba, 67, Spring/Summer 2020/2021 p.60

 Valerie Volk’s moving book of poetry, about the journey through cancer that she walked beside her partner after his diagnosis of lymphoma, takes the reader into the fear, the hope, and the practicalities of the journey a cancer sufferer (and their loved ones) makes.

 Being blessed by never having lived through this situation I am probably not the best person to review this book as Volk wrote it for other people making this same journey, so they would feel less alone. I am sure that she has captured so many moments, situations and emotions that others will recognise and connect with, all expressed in language accessible to all.

 The poems are arranged chronologically so the reader travels with them as they negotiate symptoms, tests, specialists, treatments, side effects, setbacks and successes. The first poem, ‘Beforehand’, shows how even the suspicion of a cancer diagnosis changes a person’s outlook, beginning with ‘Clear blue sky / just one small cloud / way off,’ and ending with ‘ … thunderclouds / threatening storms to come.’

 In ‘Away from you’ Volk realises how precious time spent with her partner suddenly feels, and admits to being transformed from a very independent person ‘now like an anxious child / simply crave your nearness.’

 Throughout Volk’s keen eye for the amusing, the beautiful and the comforting add spots of light among the dark shadows engulfing their lives. In ‘Talking Hair’ the oncologist seems disapproving when they joke about buying a beret but Volk points out that ‘To cope with bad news / dire forebodings / laughter is our weapon.’

 As well as a chronicle of cancer, ‘Marking Time’ is also a chronicle of love: love thrown into stark relief by the dire circumstances that leave them marking time, but as Volk says in ‘Waiting Game’, ‘Meanwhile we talk about a future / bright with promise.’

                                                                                                              Pat Patt, Editor, Tamba

REVIEW: Editor, Australian Association of Retirees Newsletter, September, 2020  p.4


This is a 95 page book, by Valerie Volk, of a personal journey through lymphoma. First there is the incredulous prognosis, then the limbo, the waiting, the fear, confinement, inability to eat, losing hair, weight, and energy – learning patience, thankfulness for love. Those who have had to travel this road, or are still travelling it, will find it an inspiration.














Excerpts from the poems

From Beforehand

Clear blue sky.
Just one small cloud
way off,
on the horizon.

That small distant cloud
began to swell, to grow,
until day turned from blue
to dark with thunderclouds
threatening storms to come

From  After the oncologist

Lymphoma –
such a lovely word.
Melodious. Seductive.
But so deadly.
Quietly it infiltrates,
fastening upon
your unsuspecting bones
until pain brings awareness
of its presence.
Coiled like a snake
for twenty years
waiting, waiting …
Now it strikes,
to catch us unawares.
And suddenly life changes.
We see the future,
if not darkly,
through a foggy glass.

From Quo vadis?

The days are empty.
We are marooned
in an uncertain sea.
Each day together
still a gift we share.
But now horizons waver
mists obscure our vision
we cling together
like children frightened
of the dark.

From Chemo-go-round

A ride you didn’t choose,
but now discover you’re astride
a prancing pony as it bucks and sways.
Around us fairground music blares
oblivious in their merry-making.
I watch you from the sidelines
as, with stoic calm, you bear
the unanticipated ups and downs
of cancer-dominated life.

This funfair ride is not a treat,
although the ticket’s cost is high.
It sure belies its name –
there’s not much merriment,
although it may go round and round …

From Cytotoxic

Then, rapidly, you’re ‘critical’,
rushed into CCU –
the old ‘Intensive Care’.
Festooned in PICC lines, drips,
hooked to machines that whirr and buzz,
bags of blood and saline
with their incessant drip,
while nurses, gloved and masked,
keep constant watch.
You’re cytotoxic.
It says so on your door.
A warning sign to all who enter here.
I learn a new word:
Methotrexate joins our lexicon.
It’s only later that they tell us
how life-threatening this time has been.
Alarmed, I find myself each night
offering bewildered prayers.

From Verdict

“Best possible result,”
his voice comes from a distance
and, for once, he smiles.
We dance light-footed
down the corridor,
But it is lined with chairs
and faces grey with care.
It would be too indecent
to show our bubbling joy,
so, sobered now,
we slow our steps.

From Evening at home

Notes cascade, rippling
as your fingers move
across the keys.
I sit, content to listen.

It is now possible
to look ahead in confidence,
foresee years of serenity
that for a time seemed jeopardised.
Play on, for as the music flows,
my heart is filled with gratitude.
And I give thanks to God.