Cathy Coley

Columbo Saves Us

Rolling ocean waves under blue sky with smattering clouds

The sea reminds us change is the only constant.

I’ve been MIA here for a few months.

I’ve been watching a lot of series, Queen’s Gambit is amazing, and I think I’ve watched all the Cozy Village British Murder Shows there are to watch. I’ve returned to the Murder Shows of my childhood, with the help of a friend who sent me the full DVD set of Columbo.

My spawn in the house have started watching Columbo with me. It’s nice when the world is in chaos, both big and small, ie: my cancer, and being locked up in the house during the pandemic with me, to know the outcome, and to watch how Columbo figures it out quickly, and steers the rich entitled murderers into their own trap.

I got through two back to back surgeries, and then chemotherapy. I’m recovering my appetite and general brain capacity after being so sick and fatigued I could barely eat, move, or think. I am still really physically fatigued, it’s hard for me to get around even in the house. This isn’t a sympathy plea, just my is. I want to recover. I want to dance and cook without having to pull up a stool rather than my legs give out from under me. I don’t know if this is extreme or normal, or a matter of my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in conjunction with the chemo. It feels extreme to me, and I’m pretty well accustomed to fatigue. I am slowly improving.

Last week, I was CAT scanned, and molded into a form, and tattooed with marker points to be sure I’m lined up perfectly in the radiation machine. Yesterday, I was laid in that form and X-rayed from every angle and got one more marker point tattoo, just to make sure. Today, I start radiation, and will be driving a long commute daily for six weeks, right up to Christmas.

There’s a weird comfort in the solidity and almost antiquity of these machines that move around me taking pictures of my insides, mostly of my left breast and surrounding lymph nodes area. Outside of the rooms I’m in, the nurses and techs sit at a wall of slim computer monitors that bring it up to date, otherwise, the machines themselves look and operate like the computers and machines in that 1970s series, where Columbo is mystified by their modernity, rooms full of a single computer that whirs and bangs and clangs. That’s what I’m laid out in now.

I am also currently watching another long series, of an earlier time, Call the Midwife. I cry almost every episode. I have to switch back and forth between these two longer series. Columbo, while Murder, is ultimately a great comfort of knowing what to expect. We know who the murderer is from the beginning. We know Columbo is going to bring them to justice. There’s some humor in the regular lines, “can I borrow a pencil?” and “oh, ah, one more thing…” that he says every episode. We can count on it. We can count on him.

In Call the Midwife, we are privy to the very intimate moments of birth and death, and all kinds of heart breaks and joys. It’s hands on, usually home births, before and at the advent of using drugs to help the mothers’ pain during delivery, very much women caring for mostly women in desperate poverty, at the apex of life and death.

So I go back and forth, I watch a few episodes of one, until I need to go back to the other. Because, especially now, during cancer treatments, during this pandemic, during this crazy election, where we know the outcome, but one and his followers won’t accept it, we are in the midst of chaos, more than usual, and I need to know that at least sometimes, in life and death, things work out for the better.

updated: 12 months ago


a morning glory vine wrapped around a sunflower stem with one pink bloom

a morning glory vine wrapped around a sunflower stem, with one pink bloom


Andrew built a wooden frame for privacy.

I planted morning glory seeds and sunflower seeds

to fill the space between us and neighbors.

It’s past Midsomer. The sunflowers stand happy sentinels,

as delicate vines begin to wind and climb to strangle them, unaware.

I spent a good part of the morning unwinding the precious threads

from the sunflower stalks they chose

to entangle around instead of the posts of the frame.

I wound the long vines around the wood frame.

The morning glories are lovely and few,

and too delicate for human touch

as they furl in their open selves toward noon.

It’s too hot in the midday humid sun

for me to try to untangle, and I have so much more

Useful things to do.

The precious vines I unwind have me

metaphoring to my cancer,

and how the surgeon, oncologist, pathologist

are trying to untangle

any remaining invisible cells

from my lymph nodes.

The two that held cancer

beyond the hard tumor in my breast,

my surgeon calls sentinel nodes,


My eldest son laughs

and compares the nodes

to a videogame sacrifice.

The gatekeepers are sacrificed

so the rest of the troops

can prepare for a defensive attack.

I'm trying to untangle all the medical

and financial information in a system

that commodifies my life as a sacrifice,

if we can’t pay

for the surgeries to cut the tumor and nodes out;

for the chemotherapy to air raid bomb

any infiltrating cancer cells out;

for the radiation after chemo,

just in case they find a single holdout in a hidden bunker

after all that residual damage is done.

I try to untangle how my daughters’

education won’t be sacrificed during this pandemic.

She can’t attend school or ride a bus,

a sacrificial lamb to a slaughter.

Since the governor can’t decide yet,

I decided for my child, for myself,

and family health.

Options are available beyond a classroom

full of covid and a myriad other disease vectors.

I untangled the pandemic from my cancer,

and the chemotherapy

that will wipe out my immune system,

like America bombs the Middle East.

The same philosophy behind both:

If we wipe it all out, maybe we’ll

get the bad guys: ISIS, cancer.

But how do I untangle the idea of destroying

what is supposed to protect me

on the off-chance a few cancer cells

may still float around in

undetermined corners of my body?

But morning glories aren’t cancer.

And sunflowers aren’t protecting us

from anymore than maybe a curious glance

or a stray hello.

The delicate lacy vines are precious

and carry beauty that changes

with the sun to protect itself

as it clings on for dear life.

I protect them both, with care,

the bowing strong, tall sunflowers,

and their delicate and dangerous

neighbor morning glories.

First draft 7/14/20

updated: 1 year ago

Off-Roading, From the Ground

a setting of rose quartz and ceramic bird with a hadndmade wire and rose quartz tree in center

friendship is loveship

Since May’s post, I was biopsied, lumpectomied, had clear margins widened (a second, lesser surgery on Baby Cthulhu Boob) all in the span of 6 weeks. There’s a lot more to this story, quite a rollercoaster. First it was determined I would probably only need spot radiation, but we are now headed toward chemo once the incision heals.

I’m blessed (I don’t use that word frequently or lightly) to have good friends from many quarters seeing me through in big and small ways. The pic included shows a gift from one. I’ve had more, and loads of good thoughts, etc.

Kid managed to finish out the school year at home, digitally, and will go to 7th grade. I’m waiting on a district decision, but she will be home for next year even if school is physically opened. Between the Pandemic and Chemo, I can’t have her in the germ fray.

Writing is more like big thoughts I’m catching sometimes in small ways. Kinda poems, kinda journal, kinda nothing. A lot of feelings I’m not ready to expose to light. I skipped June here, but June rode over me repeatedly with big off-roading tires. I hope yours was better, and your loved ones are still here. Throw a little love into the world while you’re out there, in whatever capacity.

Love and Namasté,


updated: 1 year ago

tempus fugit

golden billowy clouds tiny rainbow after a storm

After a storm, apocalyptic clouds

Since my last piece, my husband and I both got sick, and are still coughing and tire easily. We never ran a high fever, so weren't able to be tested, though we still had most other symptoms. He slept for five days straight, and then some. I did similar, but with Momdar on, because the house and family still had to function. The spawn were as helpful as they could be while keeping their distance. The dogs and cats were fed and slept against us. Well, one of the cats, because the other is so quintessentially cat.

My son was laid off when his restaurant closed early on. He's an artist, and has been collaborating on some works with friends, but creativity is kind of null for all of us these days, under this heavy global cloud. Mine has essentially been funneled into cooking and baking, because if we're all going to go down together as the old song goes, it may as well be with a full belly of delicious carbs.

My oldest is working from home back in Virginia. I won't see him for his birthday in a couple of weeks.

My daughter's twelfth birthday came and went with a poorly executed Zoom party and song. I managed to bake a cake, Her dad made chocolate frosting and frosted it. We had enough candles. I added three to grow on. Her district moved spring break up to last week, so they could plan how to ride this out academically. She's supposedly back at it, but it seems to be a minimal class time per day, a bit of school work, and that's okay with me. One of her teachers attended the Zoom party, with utmost patience while we bumbled through it.

I've been watching musicians and other figures writ large drop off in headlines, old and youngish, well, about my age, and young people, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents through a twitter feed of sorrow and helplessness. People tell their stories of not being able to hold their loved one's hand, as a nurse tells them over a phone call, that that was their last breath, they are gone.

It was easier to be cavalier a month ago. Too many people have some sort of superman complex and act in ways they think this won't touch them, but it will. It's touching all of us.

I have always been mindful of mortality, not afraid of it, but there's a basic poetic sensibility that is this. We watch the world passing in all of its ways, record its colors and winds, know the history is in the stories of people and how we are connected or individuals. These stories, humanity is at the precipice of a cliff. This is just the few first lemmings to fall. And it's so many already.

I was okay.

I was really okay, if sad about artists in headlines.

And then John Prine died last night.

I sobbed. His death wasn't unexpected, but it hurt. He'd battled back from cancer, wrote a gorgeous album a couple of years ago, a long goodbye and fun hello to the other side, the poet laying out his sensibility. I think that's when the reality of what's ahead finally hit me. No one will survive this without losing someone, or several.

A friend posted this article on the book of faces, from Oxford American. Though it's from around the album's release, it's a great tribute to him. It's a long ride in an old car, getting to know an old friend.

Please, please, please stay well, stay home, if you can. Thank you essential workers from medical to grocery.

May we not lose so many of us as we anticipate. Call your loved ones. Stay safe.



updated: 1 year ago