Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Meadow

Medical Oncologist Reconsidered as a Bush Pilot

My doctor is the very model of a medical oncologist, in a city, in a highly industrialized country. She has trained at top universities; works at the best hospital; has access to the latest data, techniques and treatments; and conducts and publishes her own cancer research. She is the medical equivalent of an elite jet fighter pilot. 

Staying with the metaphor, clinically her job is to help wounded planes fly the furthest and best they can, considering the damage sustained by cancer. In a few cases the planes fly normally on their own again. She does all this using sophisticated diagnostics, specialized drones, fluids, and other treatment repair tools. 

When I became her "patient plane" last May she was faced with an aircraft that flew well but had serious internal damage. After trying two different techniques that did not succeed in making any repairs, we had a conversation about the next options. 

Finally I asked if she could please just help fly me home. So she agreed.  Armed with her own escape method to get her back to the jet fighter, she finds herself sitting in what amounts to a sturdy, early-model bush plane. All the controls are analog, no electronic systems per se. Some of the controls simply don't work, some labels are worn off, or nonexistent, or in some antiquated foreign script. But it is a machine with soul.  

So that is how my doctor became the very model of a tough, canny bush pilot in a remote land. She has to rely on her fundamental knowledge of flying -- wind, direction, altitude, a sense of orientation, basic physics -- and the naked eye. She is keeping her eye out for a meadow. 

The Meadow

We are looking for that meadow --
How will we know it?

It's...golden. Have you been here before? 
The light on it it glows
but does not throw a glare.

It smells…well, it smells of earth. 
Or like your forearm as you walk outside 
on a warm day, just starting to perspire. 
It smells good.

The ground is solid,
neither dusty nor bumpy nor muddy.
It's big enough to land a small plane in.

And small enough to recognize you.
Call you by name.
Call you home. 

-Elizabeth B. Randolph               

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Previously I  have alluded to the rollercoaster this whole cancer journey puts you on, including "glints of anger." One of these glints takes the form of what I call my "punk rock song." It's a short, throaty howl of rage, lashing out at the biggest unknown: when is "it" going to happen?

You have to supply your own imaginary soundtrack of wailing guitars, smashing drums, and crazy snarling vocals:


I don't know when.
I can't tell you when!
No one can tell you when!!
And I don't

Photo of British punk band The Sinyx, found on

Friday, February 6, 2015

Twinkle Passage

In the late fall I started visibly noticing how much muscle mass I had lost. This was not surprising given the fact I'd basically stopped exercising. But besides my legs being smaller and me fitting into all my skinny pants (a girl's dream, right?), it was the arms that got me. I lay down in my bed at night and held up my arm, only to see the skin on my forearms and upper arms sag with wrinkly, grandmothery skin. For some reason this really bothered me. I would have to do something, maybe arm weights. 

One night before bed I was semi-reclined, and tried to swallow an Advil pill in this position. It went down the wrong pipe and I almost choked, setting off a vigorous coughing fit. This set off a chain reaction in my mind. I saw the many steps of physical decline that lay ahead of me, and wept. "I'm not going to like this," I said aloud to myself after a few minutes. "I'm not going to ike this one bit." 

Gogo appeared, sitting at the edge of my bed, and patted my feet. (Gogo is the me-30-years-hence alter ego I introduced in my very first blog post). She sat quietly, not needing to say anything. I stopped crying, and sniffled. I knew she was right. Don't worry about it. "And I suppose you'd say don't worry about the arm skin." Gogo smiled, and shook her head. "Don't worry about the skin." She tapped her finger to her temple, pointing to her eye. "Worry about the twinkle." I knew what she meant. Focus on that sense of aliveness, of being, perceivable in the twinkle of an eye.

Often I have experienced disease and healing through images and imagery -- whether in dreams at night, or semi-lucid states (yoga nidra sessions, for example), or just daydreaming.  One image in particular has helped me through some tough times, and I'll try to conjure it: 

The Passage

What it is, is a hole,
an opening,
a tear in the fabric of the planetarium,
a flap in the actual sky.

I have seen light from it.
I have held onto it
with my fingertips,
and dangled there.
What I don't know is,
where does it lead?

I imagine squeezing between table and chair
in a crowded restaurant.
Or threading a needle,
outside, in the cold.
Or holding onto a rope that pulls me
from the water to the deck of a boat.

A passage to…
Survival. Arrival.
Even now, even now!
I don't know for absolute certain.
But I keep an eye on it.

-Elizabeth B. Randolph