How Fire Flies: An Encounter With Head and Neck Cancer


A poem about a two-year encounter with advanced cancer of the head and neck.

Scorching embers soar aloft,

miniature torches in thick clouds of smoke,

driven by a fierce summer wind

that toys with the wildfire below.

Like fireflies, the sparks float away,

igniting more of the dry, wooded canopy as they land.

Cancer cells cast off sparks that float away,

inside the canopy of human physiology.

Riding along lymph, nerve and blood lines,

these fireflies create malignant hot spots,

too small to be seen as images,

too well disguised for the body to attack.

Once found, they require powerful regimens —

some massive and blunt, others small and precise.

The forest floor shows the first signs of rebirth.

Sprouts emerge.

Fragments of brush, grasses and seedlings take shape.

Over time the forest recovers.

From charred roots, rotted limbs and nourishing ash,

new growth feeds on the debris of the old.

Cancer care also moves on,

advancing its science, mourning its losses

and raging against the fire storms

while its recurring cycles endure:

sickness and health, relapse and recovery, death and rebirth.

Personal narratives endure as well in a community

of patients, families, trusted friends and healers.

In support groups our stories evoke nods, grimaces and soothing laughter.

Eyes once drained by surgery and radiation are misty.

Hopes rise, fall and rise again.

How fire flies.

How we yearn, and fight, for fresh new sprouts —

the seedlings of life.

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