Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Happy Canada Day!

We were on vacation in Northern Ontario. It was midnight in the little village and no cars had moved for hours. 

At the crosswalk I step into the intersection and feel a sudden tug on my arm. 

My ex-husband, Peter, pulled me back to the curb, I look up to see that the signal says, “Don’t Walk”.  

Smiling I stand on the silent sidewalk and wait. When the traffic signal glows its approval to cross we step out carefully and correctly; I laugh. This is the kind of thing that happens in a mixed marriage.

I married a Canadian.

Hockey, beer, donuts, moose –these stereotypes, all rooted in Canadian reality are funny to Americans. 

We especially like the accent, the lilting up and down of Canadian speech. In just a few hours in Ontario I am imitating my in-laws, “Will ya go to the lake, eh?” But I also know that the final “eh” on Canadian sentences and obeying traffic signals are related.

The Canadian “eh” is not just a conversational tic. That uplifting extra syllable is an invitation to consensus, to agreement, and to keeping the order.

Keeping order is one of the greater aspects of Canada that we Americans-- so nearby-- miss when we think “Canadian”. Canadians –motivated by a concern for a “common good” are more orderly, law abiding and considerate than we. It’s not because they are nicer, but consideration of one’s impact on others is a strong cultural value. 

Speech patterns give more than a clue to this difference. The histories of our nations are echoed in how we use our common language. There are very few declarations in Canadian dialect. Declarations invite challenge. This makes sense when you remember that Canada did not have to struggle for independence as Americans did. 

Britain approved Canada’s confederation in 1867.  So, you can hear how the inflection, that final “eh” leaves the conversational door open with space for another’s thought.

For example, while visiting we met a young man who was dating a niece. He was not as bright as the family might have liked. 

But as I was about to blurt, in my American declarative, “He’s an idiot”, my sister-in-law said in her Canadian lilt, “Ya say hello to him and he’s stuck for an answer, eh?” Message delivered; door left ajar.

Americans however are poised for a fight. You can hear it in our speech with its tone of certainty and downward inflection; we are always staking a conversational claim. Even the most pacifist of us hold our opinions –and our right to them—like guns.  This also comes from our past. We arrived here fighting.

This is also why the gun control issue seems easier to Canadians. Friends in Ontario shake their heads at our debates and say, “Such a big fuss, eh?”  For us the gun question is emotionally charged because at a deep level we remember fighting for our land and freedom.

It may be around the idea of freedom that our look-alike cultures diverge. My husband and I have a regular debate about freedom. I say Americans have more freedom: We can be and do and say whatever we like. It’s freedom TO.

But, says Peter, in Canada freedom is seen as freedom FROM. The Canadian consideration for the common good allows Canadians relative freedom from violence, from crime, and from poverty.

Because Canada is a non-litigious culture Canadians are especially free of the kinds of legal hassles that cost Americans so much time and money.

These differences run deep but they’re obvious when you lay the historic values side by side. We salute “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” There is a win-the-west, win-the-war feel to it.

Then picture Canada’s: “Peace, Order and Good Government”. Can’t you just see people cueing up and taking turns, and leaving room in the conversation for the other guy?

Canada is not a land of Boy Scout, do-gooders of course. The very contradictions make you love ‘em, eh? Theirs is a mostly non-violent culture whose national pastime—hockey-- knocks the teeth out of every male over nine years of age. And while living surrounded by natural beauty and wilderness air Canadians smoke themselves to death. We joke that Canadian restaurants offer two seating choices: Smoking and Chain-Smoking.

I learned a lot in that marriage. I learned to care more about the rest of the world as Canadians do and to not run from the room when the world news comes on.

I learned that waiting for the walk signal is not passive submission to rules and regs; rather it’s an active expression of community and being part of the common good.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Racial Discrimination & Disparity in CancerLand

So, this week we are each looking at ourselves and asking about our own participation in the culture of racism, and asking ourselves (I hope you are) “What can I do to be an anti-racist?”

But, for goodness sake Diane, this is CancerLand, could there be a place more inclusive, and more, “we are all in this together?”

Well, I get that. 
Colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer—when we suffer, we suffer. Our caregivers are stressed and anxious in similar ways. Yes, but. But. There are differences related to race and class and income and poverty and disproportionate care and access to care.

Years ago, working with a cancer support group I was dismayed that when there was an opportunity to locate that luscious care center in our County it was built in a very suburban area, with very little access to public transportation. Yes, busses do go there a couple times a day, but no sick or tired cancer patient was going to take two or three buses with a 30-minute wait in-between. But the place was so pretty and the staff so truly loving, that reality slipped by.

The other way that cancer and cancer care discriminates is in its relationship to poverty. When many of us—let’s say middle-class—are diagnosed, our friends rally: here come the casseroles (Oh, dam the lasagna), and the offers of childcare and rides, and “I’ll go to the doctor with you to take notes.”

But if we live in poverty the odds are pretty good that our friends do too. They care just as much but maybe they can’t cook for two families or take time from a no-benefits job to accompany us to appointments, or spend hours at chemo with us, or offer rides if public transport is their ride. 

So, patients in poverty miss more appointments, leave chemo earlier, don’t have a pal advocating fiercely for that second opinion or that NYC or Boston trip. Do those things affect cancer’s outcome? Add to that--their family caregiver likely can’t take as much time off  from work.

And, we haven’t even touched the subtle racism (let’s say unconscious) by some docs and other medical personnel. 

It’s a very different part of CancerLand.

Let’s learn about that, and use our Cancer Power for advocacy in our shared territory.

And let’s read a bit, and ask more questions, now or as soon as you are feeling better.

Want to learn more?
Here are two articles that explain this discrimination and disparity in CancerLand:

This article is from Rush University Medical Center

This article is by Brian Rivers, PhD for Cancer Today Magazine

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Tools in CancerLand That Help Right Now

Those of us who have lived in CancerLand, have a tool kit that we can open in this time of COVID-19.   These may not be tools we wished for years ago, but nevertheless, we have them. And maybe now we can lean into those tools to help ourselves and others.

Here's an article from Kate Bowler who is a cancer survivor and a scholar at Duke Divinity School:

Maybe take some time today to inventory your tool kit.

What did cancer or caregiving teach you?

Sending you lots of love.

Be well. Be safe. Stay home.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

When Chemo Doubles the Impact of Quarantine

Yes, those of us in CancerLand--whether patients or caregivers--have extra challenges and protocols right now. The pressure can feel more intense, and the restrictions on family are greater too.

Thought you'd like to read this story by Larry Rulison, a reporter for the Albany Times Union--who is working--at home of course because he also being treated for Stage 4 appendix cancer. Here is what it's like at his house in Albany, New York.

What is it like at your house?

What modifications are you, and your docs, making for your care?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Meditation and Mindfullness for Caregivers

It would seem impossible to add one more thing to the caregiver’s to-do list. But, adding meditation or a mindfulness practice may be the very thing that makes that too long list a little more manageable.

No, doing meditation or yoga or Qigong or another mindful practice is not a total remedy to the stress and business of caregiving, but is absolutely a positive aid and help.

Now documented in many years longitudinal research, it’s been shown that caregivers—of people with serious illness, dementia or a child with a developmental delay—cope better, report more ease, and have fewer physical symptoms of their own when they are engaged in a mindfulness practice.

And mindful meditation, breathing practice or yoga becomes more than just a way to cope with the stress; it’s a way to fully embrace one’s life as caregiver.  

Trying to attend a weekly class may be over the top, but there are many online resources, and podcasts that give basic instruction in Pranayama (Yoga breathing), restorative yoga, mindful awareness, and meditation. 

And if you are part of a caregiver support group, ask if some meditation or yoga instruction can be added to the meeting once a month.