Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Co-opting feelings

Blowball With Seeds Flying To The Sky


After my cancer treatment, I felt pressured to turn my trauma into personal growth—when what I needed to do was grieve. This has allowed me to validate whatever feelings patients are experiencing.

“After the surgery”


We sit outside under the asymptotic sky

as little red termites crawl onto the spokes of my wheelchair.

I don’t think about my tumor, oxidized and

bleeding in the hospital basement, as the pathologist gives it

a grade for how well it ate

a hole through my entrails, made me fold

into myself.

You ask me about going under

the knife, and I say it’s the first time I’ve had

general anesthesia. I was out before I could imagine what it’s like

to die.

When one cell shifts in its grave, others

may end up following. The sun is too bright for things like this to happen

without me noticing. At the time of diagnosis

I became

aware of my own

erosion the way a dying

tree becomes aware of

baby termites. A body half-opened

and arching, terrified

in the sudden


I’m afraid to tell you it somehow hurts

to lose something I’ve held inside

for so long.

After the surgery, I go home and sit

in the garden, watch my childhood pets peek through

the swollen dirt. They are turning into tulips

before my eyes.


I wrote this poem several years after I learned about my kidney tumor, when I was still processing the fact that my cancer journey wasn’t the turning point in my life that I thought it would be. I was struggling with the idea that medical education, and medicine in general, strongly encourages us to turn personal trauma into personal growth—to make flowers grow in the most inhospitable places.


I’ve been coming to terms with this is by finding those rare moments when I can sit with patients struggling with unexpected diagnoses and hold space for their fear and uncertainty. I hope that we can challenge what it means to be “resilient” and recognize how our reverence of the concept of “resilience” can be harmful to those who experience grief and healing differently.









This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.