Howard Kern

I remember the day,
The phone ringing at 5 pm on a Friday,
It was my urologist,
Not a good sign,
If the test showed nothing,
It could have waited until Monday,
He had told me that he did not see anything suspicious,
His exact words,
“I would be really surprised if anything suspicious showed up,”
I was elated,
I felt cancer-free,
But then the phone call,
I remember his opening words as if it were yesterday,
“Mr. Kern, I was very surprised,”
The rest of his words were garbled,
I remember that he said that 10 out of 11 samples were cancerous,
That my cancer was aggressive,
He talked about the options,
The only option not offered was to be “cancer-free,”
At least not without surgery,
I hated that call back in March 2013,
I hated telling my family that I had cancer,
I felt that I had let people down by not being healthy,
I would never truly be cancer-free again,
The next day I met the doctor in front of a random address on Sepulveda Boulevard,
We met so I could pick up some papers discussing my options and resources available to me,
He apologized for raising my hopes after the biopsy,
I told him that he had nothing to be sorry about,
He gave me a gift,
For two days I was cancer-free,
The last time in my life,
Then he asked if I had prostate cancer in my family,
I told him about an uncle who had a Gleason score of 10,
That is the worst you can have,
My score was a seven,
The doctor asked me when my uncle had passed,
I smiled,
My uncle was still alive ten years later,
The doctor went from being the all-knowing wizard to just another human being,
Maybe this was not the end,
Who knows?
Not me,
But neither did the doctor,
My name is Howard,
And I have cancer,
It’s not how I start off a conversation,
Nor is it my most important characteristic,
The diagnosis scared me,
But it does not define me.


© Howard Kern November 2, 2020 6:56 am


Susan Cambigue Tracey

Cancer is certainly a wake up call!
Live every moment fully – without fear, sadness, anger, regret!
That’s what cancer did for me –
a tedious journey to wake me up!


At 22 I married. At 25 and 30 I bore daughters. At 36, I divorced.
I became a single mom.
At 42, I married the man of my dreams
At 44, my oldest daughter was killed in a car crash.
At 47, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I went from reclaiming happiness to
Free falling into my worst nightmare –
the sudden, tragic death of my 19 year old daughter Julie –
two weeks after her birthday.


For three years,
I worked to recover from the death of my daughter
Supporting my younger daughter
and two stepchildren –
whose mother had died when they were five and ten.
My husband, who tragically lost his wife, their mother,
Covered us with love, humor and a blanket of comfort.
Slowly I clawed my way up through the darkest days of my life.
Sensing a small sliver of light.
my yearly mammogram showed clusters of little white calcium walls
in my right breast tissue.
It was not a lump – no symptoms.
Living in an emotional swamp of deep grief and hopelessness
since my daughter’s death,
My spirit had dimmed.
Once a bright light, now people had to look closely
to see any glimmer of light within me.
After three months of observation and two more mammograms,
I had a biopsy on a cluster of cells,
formed by my immune system
to protect me.
The surgeon called.
I must leave work immediately to meet with him.
I was shocked!
I thought I was healthy.
I arrived.
He didn’t mince words.
I had a battalion of calcium walls throughout my breast –
A sign I was under siege;
a full cancer attack was imminent.
My breast must be removed immediately!
Was he an evil man portraying himself as a doctor,
Removing my breast for a trophy.
I was very suspicious.
How could this be?
How could an army of cancer cells move into my breast
secretly attack me,
without my knowledge?
I got a second opinion.
A conspiracy – she agreed with the surgeon!
A third opinion.
Armed with all of my tests, and biopsy slides,
That doctor confirmed the diagnosis.
Not the normal lump – calcium cells.
It was serious; I needed to act immediately –
it was 10 days before Christmas!
I was sent to see Dr. Philomena McAndrews, an oncologist at Cedars.
My husband and I went to the cancer floor;
I was struck by the number of people –
many of them ill children,
curled in the laps of their parents.
My heart went out to them.
Suddenly, I was filled more with compassion than fear.
unexpectedly Santa Claus came bursting into the room
– a bag filled with toys and candy canes on his back!
He went to each child, triggering shy smiles.
Then, he came to me –
Kindly looking into my eyes
He offered me a candy cane, saying –
“You look like you could use this.”
I was shocked that he could see my pain and sadness.
His compassion brought tears to my eyes.
Later, I asked a nurse who Santa really was –
A cancer patient with only weeks to live!
This woke me up to the reality of my situation.
I was told to act quickly;
I might be one of the lucky ones –
wiping cancer out before it could metastasize.
Seven days until Christmas –
they wanted to operate before.
We settled on the day after Christmas.


Although I lost my right breast,
the cancer cells had not entered my lymph nodes.
With the removal of my breast,
they said the enemy was eradicated.
My doctor decided on no radiation or chemo.
I had a positive attitude.
I would recover well.
I chose not to have reconstruction – my body had been through enough.
I knew that I was given more time
to contribute to my family –
especially my daughter Heather – who was 17.


My mother died of breast cancer.
She was 76 – I was 51 – my daughter was 21.
Then, my daughter was diagnosed with cancer
She was 41 – I was 71. My mother was gone.
My daughter asked me to come across the country
for her operation,
help her husband and young boys.
It was a most violent operation for a young mother.
Her husband and boys were amazing
in their love and support for her.
Her friends and neighbors rallied round –
a small tribal village.
The boys on her son’s basketball teams
wore pink shoelaces to support her.
People brought food every day.
It was quite amazing to see how Heather became the focal point
for compassion, friendship, support and love.
It was my honor to be included.
During this time the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook occurred.
It was a few weeks before Christmas.
Her breasts made the ultimate sacrifice –
saved her life,
just as my right breast had done for me.


I had a cyst on one of my ovaries.

I was 75 – Heather was 45.
I was advised to have them both out,
even though the cyst was benign.
There is a strong connection between breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
And, indeed I have three cousins
who died from ovarian cancer, two as teens, and one as a young mother Yes, I did have the genetic test
to check if I had the gene linked to breast cancer.
I did this on behalf of my daughter.
If I did not test positive, she would not be positive.
I tested negative, but she still got cancer,
just as my mother and two of her three sisters did.
Does cancer run in my family?
Yes, it appears to – but not from a gene.
Rather, from holding onto deep grief and shock.
There is strong evidence to suggest that long held grief, resentment and rage
held in one’s body for many years
does elicit breast cancer.


When we hold on to old losses, injustices and anger,
Our own health is greatly impacted.
Sad, angry and hostile cells put out a chemical in our body.
It produces more sad, angry and hostile cells that eventually attack our body.
The breast represents our heart and love,
It produces milk to nourish our children.
We must release ourselves from holding on
to strong, negative emotions.
Forgive life for the losses it imposes.
Now, I am 80 – my daughter is 50 –
we are both happier than ever!


Take a bad turn,
Make it right,
Write about it,
What do you get?
ShiftPoetry (™),
Just don’t forget the “f.”

©Howard Kern
December 13, 2018, 1:55 PM

November 27, 2018 – Below is a poem I was inspired to write based on the passing of my son’s high school football coach, Larry Palmer (5/11/1960 – 11/24/2018). It applied equally to my childhood friend John Siegel (3/1961 – 11/2?/2018). Like so many others, including Cliff Hannel, Steve Ryan (aka Kerry Ryan), Keith Farr, Kenny Herman, Beth Brenner, Larry Gerson, Debbie Blum, George Mantour, Joey Miller, Judith Roseman, Steven Howard, just to name a few, they died too soon. During this Holiday Season, my blessings and prayers go out to all families that have suffered losses and I hope that everybody takes a moment to appreciate how lucky we all are to share this space on earth.


Too Soon

I act real cavalier,
Like I don’t really care,
But truth be told,
I really want to grow old,
I want to walk my child down the aisle,
Maybe sit with my grandkid for a while,
And hear those precious words spoken,
“Grandpa you must be jokin,”
But as I lie down on my bed,
I know in my heart that I have no say over where my soul will be led,
So I shut my eyes before I sleep,
And hope that my soul I get to keep,
But my fears are neither here nor there,
All these neurosis are mine to bare,
I write these words with a heavy heart,
In hopes that my soul will not depart,
But if my soul is called away,
Please remember my love of life every day.

©Howard Kern
November 27, 2018, 12:08 AM

November 27, 2018 – I have gained weight over the past several months. I mentioned this to my partner. I told her that I have not been writing as much. She advised me to write whenever I felt like eating for no reason. This is the poem her words inspired.


Writing Instead

Coping comes in many different forms,
Sometimes I eat when I’m under stress,
Sometimes I run until I can’t run anymore,
Other times I just want to become a different person,
But the best thing I can do for myself is just write,
Let my fingers do the talking,
Shut my eyes,
And just type away,
Until there’s nothing more to say.

©Howard Kern
November 26, 2018, 11:54 PM


Just One Letter

At times I may get sad,
And think about how hard life is,
Woe is me,
And then I realize,
It doesn’t have to be that way,
Just one letter makes all the difference,
Wow is me,
And it doesn’t stop there,
I can’t,
Just one letter,
I can,
And then some words are so amazing that their strength continues even
as I play with the letters,
How great are those words,
I get a lift out of life when I live with love,
I like that,
Just one letter,
Life doesn’t have to be burdensome,
It all comes with attitude,
Sometimes it’s a matter of spelling,
And I know that it’s not as easy as one letter,
But wouldn’t it be nice if it were?
So I ask myself,
Why can’t it be?

©Howard Kern
March 1, 2018


I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral

I didn’t go to your funeral
I don’t even know if you had one
(I think you had one)

I know you’re buried
but I don’t know where

Was it a day thing?
A Saturday maybe?
And who showed up?

My dad I suppose,
With your good friend (who’d be his wife in three months)

Maybe our old neighbor
Maybe her kids
Or maybe she was skeeved by that whole business too?

I can’t build a memory of where I wasn’t
But I can say our whole time
(ok most of it)
was where you weren’t.
So I wasn’t either.

Your funeral?
I’m sure Somebody showed:
You were well liked among people who didn’t have to live with you.

© Ruth Waytz
June, 2018


On Divorce

I think that you hate me.

I know I hate you

I wish I did not

It crowds out my life

I invited you in

And gave what I could

It wasn’t enough

And the anger began

We had our two treasures

We love them the same

They live with our anger

Even when it’s not named

I want to forgive you

But anger is all I have left

To lose it might save me

But leave me bereft

© Sam Kitt
April, 2018