1. Meyskens, Frank L. JR. MD

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The Final Song

Once again we rushed to be with you


a long scary ride in the pouring rain,


arriving at midnight ten hours later


exhilarated and exhausted.


You had been failing badly for several days


now gasping, eyes shut, becoming aware


of our presence when my brother began


to sing "You are my sunshine."


Your eyes opened and in a strong voice


you began to sing, song after song,


and for an hour we sang with you,


you correcting us when we didn't get it right.


And then you returned to wherever


you had been and for the next three days


you said your goodbyes, one by one,


as your friends and grandchildren called.


It has been nearly six weeks now since you sang yourself


into the cosmos, never will I forget that divine moment,


my chest then heaving, my heart now aching,


my eyes glistening at the finality of that moment.


-Frank L. Meyskens, Jr.


FRANK L. MEYSKENS, JR., MD, is the Daniel G. Aldrich, Jr. Endowed Chair and Professor of Medicine, Biological Chemistry, Public Health, and Epidemiology; Vice Dean of the School of Medicine; and Director Emeritus of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, Irvine; as well as Associate Chair of Cancer Control and Prevention for SWOG. He is a member of OT's Editorial Board, and it was his suggestion to include poetry as a regular feature.


About this poem, he says, "The impact of the death of my father came suddenly and with gale force. This is my tribute to him, a poem that came out nearly fully borne. Without his steady presence even during truly difficult times during my youthful escapades, my life would have been much shorter and certainly much less full."

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The latest collection of his poems, Believing in Today (ISBN 978-1-56474-558-3), was published this spring. Explaining the title, he says, "'Believing in Today' is about believing in yourself, for without that there will be no tomorrow."

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A Healing Journey through Poetry



Frank Meyskens began writing poetry during his third year of medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, when he first started working with patients. "During the third year the men are separated from the boys and the women from the girls, and seeing really sick patients is emotionally draining, so I sought solace in composing poems," he said during an interview related to the publication of his new book of poetry.


He said he wasn't sure then if he wanted to continue in medical school, and so took time off before starting his third year to work instead full time in a basic science laboratory. That experience contributed to his decision to become a physician scientist, he said.


Meyskens also recalled that as a boy suffering from what he terms "a complex congenital neuroectodermal condition that has had life-long consequences," he spent a good deal of his pre-teen life in and out of hospitals. "I have a distinct memory of literally dying, and floating down and seeing my mother crying and saying, 'Frankie is gone. Frankie is gone,' he said.


"I grew up in the Richmond section of San Francisco-at that time a working class neighborhood. I wasn't able to play outside with the other boys [because of the illness], and so instead spent time inside reading encyclopedias and books. The experience crafted who I was."


Then, upon his eventual return to medical school, he went through a "dramatic event" during an orthopedic surgery rotation: "An orthopedist told me I had the 'most interesting hands' and asked if he could take some pictures."


Meyskens said he was asked to attend a conference and then found x-rays of every part of his body on the wall in a room full of white coats. He said he was told that he had a condition that would leave him "crippled" and not living much beyond age 40 and that he should not continue medical school.


"I was upset, stumbled out of the room, and went to speak with the dean of students. I was so upset they had to call security."


Subsequently Meyskens learned that the condition was linked to animal hoof-and-mouth disease, which, as he found out later, his mother had been exposed to early in pregnancy during World War II.


Meyskens didn't write any more poetry until four years later, during his clinical fellowship year at the National Institutes of Health, where every Friday he and the 23 other fellows would have to sit through a lecture and then spend time as a group with a psychiatrist.


Attendance was mandatory, he noted, because of the intensity of the training-"I learned later from the psychiatrist that the sessions were started in an attempt to relieve some pressure-for many years there had been 'only' one suicide a year, but in the prior year, there were two."


So once again, Meyskens turned to poetry.


Not long after, though, that outlet was expressed in other ways, and his poetry writing lay dormant. Then, as he describes it, in 2001, nearly 30 years later, he resumed his passion by writing the poem Ripped (eventually published in OT's2/25/05 issue and included in his first collection of poems, Aching for Tomorrow, 978-1-56474-468-5), which was inspired by a 28-year-old mother of three with a rare placental tumor who arrested during a "minor" procedure before she could be treated, and whose death devastated him.


That experience revived a sustained pouring out of poetry ever since, which has been nurtured by his wife of 20 years, Linda, whom he proudly and lovingly refers to as his muse.


All royalties from both books are contributed to the Meyskens Patient Care Fund at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, Irvine.