Some days were called “Black Booger Days.” On those days, it seemed even the PPE (personal protective equipment) wasn’t doing much with all the chemicals they were dealing with. Jason Randall spent the first two years of his five-year Navy service involved in an RCOH (Refueling and Complex Overhaul) of the USS Eisenhower. This process involves the complete breakdown and build back of the ship, down to replacing the spent nuclear fuel.
Chemical exposure was everywhere. Even when the Eisenhower had deployed to the Persian Gulf for active duty, Jason remembers days of a sickly yellowish orange fog.
Problems would develop while in the Navy and Jason would undergo a pilonidal cystectomy (surgery to remove a cyst) over his tailbone.
Years later and back at home, Jason was married, living on a farm with a lovely wife and two beautiful children. A third child was on the way in a few months.
That was when they found the cancer. Jason had a 5 cm tumor in his rectosigmoid colon and a liver that was eighty percent covered in metastases. Chemotherapy would begin but surgeons did not believe Jason could survive liver surgery.
Soon after his diagnosis, Jason became involved with several cancer support communities at the advice of his integrative medicine doctor, Dr. Kim. It was from this doctor he learned the phrase, “Keep your eyes on the prize.” He realized he had begun setting goals when he was first diagnosed, but now he had a mantra to guide him.
The first of many goals was to be alive to see the birth of his son.
A digital cartographer who uses data to assist in city planning, Jason used goal setting to chart first his treatment and then his life, the way his career uses data to plot the future of a community.
When treatment began, they basically threw everything and the kitchen sink at him. Jason began 30 cycles of heavy chemo (FOLFIRINOX) and had two Y90 treatments (image guided treatments where radioactive beads are used in blood vessels to treat liver metastasis). Treatment didn’t have the effects the doctors were looking for and even a year later Jason was still considered inoperable and on chemo for life.
Jason sought a second opinion at City of Hope in California and was accepted. The doctors, Dr. Fong and Dr. Kaiser, performed a marathon twelve-hour surgery. He would end up with a temporary ileostomy, which would later be taken down.
For a time, his pathology showed promising results.
Ten months later, in October of 2020, the cancer returned. This time the cancer would also invade his tailbone. Radiation and chemo would begin again. This would be followed by APR surgery (abdominal perineal resection), including the resection of the sigmoid colon, rectum, and anus, the construction of a permanent end colostomy, as well as a coccygectomy (the removal of the tailbone).
While at first he was grateful to have the ileostomy taken down, Jason found the permanent colostomy to be a blessing. Like many colorectal cancer patients, the chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation had wreaked havoc on the nerves, muscles, and tissues in his colon creating an ongoing uncertainty as to when (not if) there would be an incident. The colostomy would provide a return to a level of normalcy. And like many in the ostomy community, Jason would come to name his stoma. One night after a particularly gurgled series of sounds, Jason’s wife, Tellena, would comment, “I feel like I’ve just listened to a T.E.D. Talk. They named it Ted.
Jason’s treatments would be tied to the ebb and flow of Covid and at times his chemotherapy, radiation and even ablation therapy would be delayed. But eventually, the treatments were complete. Another goal accomplished.
Goals along the way would be big and small. A major goal in this process was working with the VA for compensation for his injuries. With the PACT Act (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) being argued in Congress, Jason worked with his state’s Senator to get his paperwork in order. It had been a two-year process. Almost immediately after the passage of the act, he received a letter that his claim had been approved.
As of the writing of this piece, Jason received clear scans on his 40th birthday. His major goal now is to make advocacy central in his life. To do so he plans to move his wife, Tellena, and their kids, Adynn, Easton and Hollis, to Hawaii and establish a retreat for cancer patients either in treatment or recovery. A very big goal.
He is busy mapping the way to make it a reality.