Notes from Candice Ransom

Cancer and the Game of Polaris

Some years ago I bought a game board at an antique show because I loved the graphics. The board was designed and signed by A.R. Meissner, 1923. It’s an odd game–“Polaris: The Great 254 Trillion Mile Aeroplane Race,” patent applied for (don’t know if it was ever granted) by Chas. S. Muir, to be produced by The Polaris Co., Washington, D.C, Sole Manufacturer. While cleaning out my office recently, I came across this old board. I studied it and realized that my husband’s current diagnosis in some ways mimics this game.

A diagnosis of cancer hits like a falling brick wall. You know people who have had it, yet knowing people with it and having it yourself feels like being ejected from your familiar home planet. Most of my loved ones have died from cancer and while I hurt from their pain, I was still one step removed from it. This is my husband of 45 years. I am one with his pain, his fears, his uncertainties.

The game of Polaris, as best as I can determine from the board, is a race by four players in aeroplanes (their “home bases” are hangars) through our solar system, minus Pluto, not yet discovered, and beyond into the Milky Way. The players run into pitfalls, such as “Wireless From Orion–Beware Of The Bull” and “Struck By Meteor–Volplane Back To Saturn.”

The instant a doctor told us, “I felt a mass,” we were flung into outer space. For the past two months, our lives have consisted of clinics, hospitals, doctor’s offices, phone calls scheduling appointments and tests, and waiting rooms. Waiting rooms are holding pens for nervous patients outfitted with large flat screens tuned to HGTV. I’ve seen so many kitchens being renovated, I could do ours with a hammer and a drill.

At home we wait for test results from CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, blood work, genetics, and a biopsy. At first, I equated these weeks as experiencing waves and troughs. Waves came in the form of results from doctors and those tests, always worse than we thought. Troughs were the blissful week here and there in which we were appointment-free and could almost feel normal.

But then I found the old game board and believe it’s a better metaphor. Waiting for test results (always over a holiday) feels like “Stuck In Soft Crust Of Jupiter–Wait Till All Players Go By.” Knowing that a body organ has failed is like “Broken Propeller–Go Back To Perseus For Repairs.” Starting to receive dicey treatments with side effects is like being thrown off the constellation Pegasus, “Kicked By Horse–Glide Back To Andromeda To Be Nursed.”

Then there is “Lost In The Milky Way.” This is losing your identity. People don’t know what to say to my husband, so they ignore him and don’t include him in conversations, perhaps the most hurtful of all. He has become the elephant in the room–everyone is uncomfortable. My husband has cancer, he doesn’t feel well, and it will get worse. I know what people think: that he’s 90 and can’t hear anyway, that he is sick and so visits are strained and cut short.

He is still himself. He’s the same person with four degrees, who once commanded meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has five satellites with his name engraved on a gold plate on each, who met Buzz Aldrin, and who has taught himself quantum mechanics for the last ten years.

I have found only one reference to the game of Polaris, 1923 (there are more recent games with that name). An individual with the same game board as mine auctioned it at WorthPoint (don’t know the selling price). The person said that A.R. Meissner was famous for his postage stamp designs and that his board was originally bought at an estate sale in North Carolina from the estate of the man who designed the Lincoln Memorial.

So, the board I have is a hundred years old and rare. I’m more concerned about the welfare of my husband than the value of this ephemera. It is my job to sweep his aeroplane off that game board and keep him tethered to Earth. Where he belongs.

2 thoughts on “Cancer and the Game of Polaris”

  1. Your comments touched me. As I get older and loss and the threat of loss comes closer, I hope we don’t forget the essence of who we and the who the people we love are. Your husband sounds like he’s contributed so much and has so much to share. I wish I could ask him about his amazing experiences (I am revising a pb about becoming an astronaut for Kane Press). I know this is a tough time and I send support from afar.

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  2. Candice, what a new and terrifying journey for you and your husband. I am so sorry (which is trite and insufficient). The stress of having a loved one ill is crushing, as I learned this fall with my mum. My hope is that you – and especially he – will find a tiny bit of comfort knowing people you don’t even know well are pulling for and praying for better days ahead.❤️

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