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.

{mooblock= REVIEW: Robin Hillard,  Polestar Writers Journal, #41  May 2021  pp.45-46

The poems in Valerie Volk’s Marking Time: A Chronicle of Cancer, move from the first tentative concern about her partners ‘stray aches and pains’ and the terrifying diagnosis of lymphoma, to the painful cycles of chemotherapy and an eventual blessed remission. The first tiny cloud in an otherwise clear sky is followed by a storm that sweeps through her world. These are intensely personal poems, and as the poet shares her own experience, others struggling through similar cycles of fear and hope will find comfort in the knowledge they are not alone.

All too many readers will recognise landmarks on their own journeys in these lines, and some of the poet’s responses will bring a wry smile of recognition. In Biopsy, after the oncologist has taken a sample, there are days of waiting while ‘an expert seeks an answer’ and she tells us that ‘of course I’ve gone to Google.’ When the first threatening diagnosis looks like a ‘tsunami’ she begs the storm to ‘Please pass us by.’ As she searches for a comforting pattern, the poet looks at traffic lights. ‘If they stay green … everything will be all right.’ When they turn red, she curses her superstitious soul. Those who have shared her frightening journey will recall their own efforts to read significance into small events, even while their logical mind knows there is no connection, that a traffic light cannot influence or predict the result of a test.

Further into the journey after tests, treatments, and more tests Volk considers the language of the disease. She examines the word patient,  which get a a heavier meaning after every test, and the cautious ‘Come back on Monday’ leaves her wondering if the uncertainty of waiting is ‘harder to endure than knowledge?’ The patient, and the patients’ loved ones, have to learn patience.

While the label patient carries its load, there are more new words , like biopsy and the lymphoma that lies ‘coiled like a snake / for twenty years.’ There is a parade of specialists to define them, haematologist and oncologist, and nurses who ‘smile a lot / warmly, kindly, reassuringly’ through an endless litany of questions. ‘Name? Date of birth? Address?’  A repetition of questions that, in a different life, might have led to impatient complaint now brings the comforting knowledge that in this new and hazardous world everything is ‘checked and double  checked all day …’ And there are words like multitude and myriad, that change their meaning from a generous abundance to a description of the devouring avid hunger of aggressive cancer cells.

And when words fail, Volk gives us images to help us understand the progress of the disease and hope of healing. In the garden, she pictures the chemo, rooting out disease from every cell as she pulls out weeds. Each poem is accompanied by a picture, a quiet scene, a stormy sky, a statue or a fence, images to match the mood of the lines. The poems, with their pictures, will bring comfort to other travellers on this road and give them a shared language to break the isolation of their experience.

REVIEW: Ian Keast  Studio Journal, 52 , 2021.  pp79-80

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">Marking Time  - A Chronicle of Cancer       by Valerie Volk   Immortalise Press, 2020

 The final stanza of the opening poem, “Beforehand”, reads,

That small distant cloud

began to swell, to grow,

until day turned from blue

to dark with thunderclouds

threatening storms to come.

 Here, we are introduced to Valerie Volk’s latest poetry. A familiar name to Studio readers, this book takes us on the six month journey of her partner, David, through diagnosis and treatment of his lymphoma. What a read it is! ‘Beautiful’, ‘honest’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘meditative’, ‘engaging’, ’accessible’, – are words that spring to mind.

 It is a ‘beautiful’ book in its presentation- the journey narrative is measured over time, from June to January; the written text is supplemented by its interaction with appropriate photographs.

 Not surprisingly, the words, coming from this versatile wordsmith, are the key to the journey. It is mapped by images- opening with a small cloud to thunderclouds/threatening storms to come. The growing cancer leads to increasing pain; a loss of companionship; its insidiousness, coiled like a snake/for twenty years/watching, waiting…( “After the oncologist”). The poison of the chemo is pictured as, “An irony”. Strong military motifs depict the struggle, …Your body is a battleground./…Now we amass our armies,/an array of drugs that drip/from chemo tubes,/gather strength,/prepare for battle, (“Battle lines”), andagain, in, “Military tactics”, …Each day is wearisome./The enemy creates a slow attrition,/saps life of pleasure by fatigue/and makes each act a challenge./This is a many-fronted war… A change of metaphor, sees the ongoing treatment as gardening, in, “Cancer gardening”,…when roots break/and just torn scraps emerge/I shiver slightly./I think of you in cancer ward./Complete eradication of that weed/will mean a chemo victory…

 It is not just these images that chart the journey of the treatment, along with that of the poet’s own imagination, mind and soul. Her fascination is also with the individual word and its, (now new and personal), associations- biopsy, lymphoma, aggressive, avid, patient; for example. In, “An English Literature lesson”, ‘canker’, in the line from Hamlet, ‘The canker galls the infants of the spring’, now assumes a modern, ominous meaning, …old words still haunt./Today, we have our modern ‘canker’…as cancer cells eat into bones/your innocent bones. This journey becomes increasingly a personal, and uncertain, odyssey.

 And these words and images take us through the remaining months of their, ‘funfair ride’, in, ”Chemo-go-round”,…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… Their ride ends in January. The focus in, “Gamesmanship”, is on the words of the haematologist …Remission. Not a guarantee./ For now, his skill has triumphed./Gladiator like, he fought the beast… They can, now, share in the tradition, of, “Ringing the bell”…Departing patients, cured-/or in remission-/get to ring the old ship’s bell,/a sign of victory…

 What more is to be said? This, in the concluding lines of, “Evening at home”,

…my heart is filled with gratitude,

and I give thanks to God.

 This is a beautiful and moving and personal narrative. My wife and I have stumbled-walked this road some years ago; the poems resonate with their rich, evocative vocabulary of image and word. It is a privilege to read and absorb this book.

{mooblock= REVIEW : Reviewer  Miriam Wei Wei Lo   in Westerly 67.2  Nov., 2022

 Volk, Valerie. Marking Time: A Chronicle of Cancer. Immortalise, 2020. RRP: $25.00, 102pp, ISBN: 9780648895701

Marking Time is Adelaide-based Volk’s tenth book and sixth poetry collection. This straightforward book delivers what its title promises. It is poetry as a way of marking time—a chronicle of Volk’s journey with her husband through his experience of lymphoma. This is unabashedly autobiographical poetry that speaks from the point of view of the spouse-carer. The poems are terse and matter-of-fact. This terseness is reflected in the form of the poems, which are almost entirely in short-line free verse, with one brief excursion into the sonnet form (‘Chemo Sonnet’). The imagery of this poetry hits with pared-back force. We move from:

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

                 (in ‘Beforehand’, 5)


Tsunami sweeping in.

                                               (in ‘In the Cancer Clinic’, 7)

 Across the collection, there is absence like a knife thrust, disease like a striking snake, drugs like a poison, uncertainty like drifting at sea, and a lot of battle imagery. There are times when the poetry falls into telling instead of showing and times when the imagery feels a little clichéd. However, the overall narrative force of the book is sufficient to carry the reader forward. Volk takes us with her into the language and experience of chemotherapy and hospital treatment:


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.

                      (‘Cytotoxic’ 67)

 If part of the point of poetry is for the writer to process experiences and for the reader to develop empathy, Marking Time makes this point with humour, whimsy and visual interest (each poem is paired with a photograph). This is a worthwhile book for anyone facing the challenges of aging (including sickness) or for anyone curious about the emotional journey of cancer treatment.































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.