One of the many side effects of chemotherapy is the inability to concentrate. Lois Randall describes it as “the fog rolling in and out from the sea of my mind.” To keep her mind preoccupied during a treatment one day, Randall picked up some yarn resting in a basket and began to knit, a craft her mother had taught her and that she has practiced all her life.
“I stopped trying to let my mind control the outcome of what I was doing,” Randall said. At one point she looked down and realized she’d reached into the basket and grabbed yarn of a totally different color and texture and knit it into her tapestry.
Unknowingly, she had just become a fiber artist.
Randall was diagnosed in November 2017 with two different kinds of Stage 3 breast cancer, one on each side — first one malignancy and then the other after a subsequent MRI.
Actually, it was one of her golden retrievers who first discovered it.
“Lucy kept sticking her nose under my armpit,” she recalled. “One night I felt under my arm and found a lump. I sat straight up in bed, scared to death.”
She underwent a double mastectomy in December 2017. Although she could have had a partial on one breast she decided it was safest to do both.
She began chemotherapy Jan. 18, 2018. During her treatments she would nod off, then pick up her free-form knitting again, going in a completely new direction, dropping stitches and making mistakes, but it kept turning out.
She created a special piece for her granddaughter, adding embellishments and charms that reflected their shared times and relationship. It was then that she felt it was completed.
Randall’s good friend and neighbor Dawn Duane, who is a local artist, saw her creation and encouraged her to make more.
“She brought me some of her own treasures and asked me to braid them into a creation for her,” Randall said. “She inspired me and I got excited about it. ”
By the time she completed radiation therapy in August, Randall had created three pieces of art.
“I thought I was just making Christmas presents,” she said.
Randall has always dabbled in art. The daughter of a park ranger, she grew up in Glacier National Park. Her father created cribbage boards out of elk antlers and taught her his craft. She also made elk jewelry and ornaments. Later in life, she began designing jewelry from the sea glass she found on the beach during annual trips to Mexico.
Art has ebbed and flowed through the chapters of Randall’s life. She married, became a mother, taught high school biology in California and later was a fisheries biologist in Kalispell for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She and her husband of nearly 45 years also owned Rocky Mountain Hearing in Kalispell for 30 years.
For the last seven years she has raised and bred purebred golden retrievers, Sadly, her own golden retriever, Lucy, died Dec. 14, at age 11 ½. All the Randalls’ own dogs are certified therapy dogs.
At 72, Randall now considers herself retired. But she has found boundless energy in her new life as a fiber artist. Her stream of consciousness has created a unique, organic art form that is currently brightening the walls of Ceres Bakery on Main Street in Kalispell, thanks to encouragement from manager Melissa Voelker.
This month, however, Randall’s health was further complicated by the discovery of an irregular heartbeat (She has had a heart murmur since childhood) that stopped her breathing four times one night while she was being monitored. On Jan. 4 she had a pacemaker put in.
Less than a week later, while sitting down to a cup of fresh coffee in the cozy Ceres Bakery, she received a call that she would also need a catheter procedure. Much to her disappointment her breast reconstruction surgery — a much anticipated final step she elected to have because, as she says, she in no way feels too old and wanted to feel herself again — had to be delayed until March.
“When I started this journey, I made a decision not to feel sorry for myself,” she said. “I was gonna fight.”
And fight she has. With bravado. With faith. And with humor. Prior to chemotherapy she sprayed a cowboy hat pink and labeled it “Cowgirl up and get it done.” She always arrived at her treatments wearing one of 12 wigs — six of them pink.
“I might as well have fun and make others around me smile,” Randall said. “I wasn’t going to let this stinking cancer win any battles and most certainly not the war.”
Randall hopes people will like her knitted art. This next chapter of life has made her smile and she hopes it will do the same for others.
Entertainment Editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.