Sunday, November 29, 2009

Win One for Cancer

In our local paper today there was a story about a high school football rivalry. In the story the reporter says that Team A was playing “for” the coaches eight-year-old son being treated for cancer, and that Team B was inspired in their great play by a former teammate seriously injured a year ago. It struck me that neither team was—apparently—playing for themselves or for the joy, excitement or for actual competitive spirit of winning the game.

When did we start doing this and why do we do it? And how often are games played “for” or won “for” someone with cancer? You can find this in each sport. Last year in golf we followed the player-narrative of Phil Mickelson whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yes, the pink hat came out immediately—but also this sports/cancer/illness/winning narrative about using someone else’s cancer or illness to inspire good play.

It’s not new. We know, “win one for the Gipper” and we recall Babe Ruth’s famous point to the outfield to indicate where the next pitched ball would leave the park--the story says that he picked that homer for a sick kid he had visited.

But what does this say about athletes? They need a cause to play their best? They play better when someone is sick? And the point of this for the sick person? Ok, fifteen minutes of fame maybe. But does winning the high school game save the sick boys life? What is it we are really saying about cancer and sports and the myth and magic we roll together when they collide?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cancer, Cancer Everywhere

Cancer, cancer everywhere and not a drop of info that makes sense.

Ok, mammograms are out—or they’re not. Pap tests are out—or they’re not. Prostate cancer. Whew- if you had surgery and are now impotent or incontinent maybe you and your doctor moved too fast. How does that make you feel? Ditto for mastectomy based on a mammogram interpreted as risk but now, maybe, the risk wasn’t quite what they thought.

Women are cancelling mammograms and lumpectomies. Men are baffled and even more afraid of a prostate exam. The fear goes way beyond the snap of the glove and “Is it really ok to let a man touch my bum—and what if I like it?”

What’s a human to do?

Combine this with the inverse economic incentive in healthcare: the more machines a hospital invests in the more radiologic services they have to sell. The more screenings we do the more cancer we’ll find. Yep. But what if some (a lot or a little) of what is found isn’t really a threat.

After age 50 we all have cancer cells in our bodies. So do we all “have cancer”? Do we all need treatment?

Language and the way the question is framed drive all of this. The best words I have read recently are Robert Aronowitz in his New York Times op-ed called, “Addicted to Mammograms” published November 20, 2009. What he shows us is that the way the argument is framed pre-determines the possible answers.

Friday, November 20, 2009


It comes around again. No matter how much I know and how much I change this one comes around again. Sneaky too; I call it by other names: I’m “annoyed”, “hurt”, “challenged”. Sometimes I play the “I’m too spiritual for my shirt” game and think about how sad it is that he or they are less spiritually evolved than me. Yes, I even bring God into it. And then I realize, “Oh, this is resentment—and it’s mine!”

Last week I heard a woman talking about her resentment for her ex and about his ex who was the reason they are now ex and how when they were together she was resentful at him for not being more resentful of his ex. Hearing that made me laugh—which, gratefully began to help me take a step out of my resentment. The other thing that helps me is this saying that I heard in an Alanon meeting:

“Resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation”.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who Would I be Without this Thought?

A few weeks ago I did a workshop with Byron Katie—a woman who developed a personal growth and change method that teaches us to question our habitual thoughts. It makes for some challenging new thinking and for me some surprising insights and shifts.

The centerpiece is: Who would you be without this thought?

I’ve been trying to apply this to life at work, what—I think—people think of me and to my relationship with John.

Last night—listening to him cough and cough—and thinking “flu or cancer? Flu or cancer?”
Byron Katie’s question came to me: Who would you be without this thought? And the answer: I’d be at peace and I’d be asleep.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Aching for a daughter

I ache today. My step-daughter is pregnant. Her life moves forward. Our lives move apart. I understand but I cry. I write my prayers on paper. I sob them to God. Talking doesn’t work. I drive to the shopping place and touch soft things. I choose a sweater: soft, lavender, baby-colored, teary. In the dressing room mirror I look in my eyes. Crying has made them shine. I soothe myself. Lavender: Boy and girl combined. A baby. Mine.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

We All Have Cancer

I’m reading the new book, “Anticancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber. He was one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders and an accomplished neuro-psychiatrist when, at 31, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His book is about what he learned about cancer, cancer treatment and cancer prevention.

Some of it is not new: exercise, diet, alternative treatments etc. But what is new is his description of roles: the patients role in his/her own care versus the doctors. And how to sort medical info, nutritional info and much more on physiological impact of stress.

But this is the fact that blew me away: “One hundred percent of people have cancer cells in their bodies after the age of fifty.”

We all have cancer. Again: We all have cancer. In some people it develops into tumors or wild growth that becomes life threatening, in others it does not. But after age fifty we all have cancer cells.

That’s wild info to ponder in terms of prevention and what it means to maintain your health but it’s also a way to get our heads around our denial of death.

I think of Mary Oliver’s poem: “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Red Light Night

I’ve completed my Scarlett Letter month. I re-read Hawthorne and watched the public TV made for movie recreation, and then, reluctantly decided that I had to see the Demi Moore version that was a movie a few years ago. So we rented Demi’s version—the title caption says, “Loosely based on Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter”. And dear God it is loose and base.

The movie stars Demi as Hester and so she is spunky and feminist and bold from day one. Her strength does not come from her trials and tests per Hawthorne but instead she’s a fancy dress puritan who boldly flirts with the naked swimmer of a minister and she wows him with her beauty, physical strength and sharp mind. They both love to read! Wow! And yes it’s true that Demi took the liberty of changing one of America’s greatest novels to give it a happy ending—no death for the Reverend Mister Dimsdale—instead he gets to start a new life with hottie Hester and adorable baby Pearl.

But now I know—and you know –don’t rent this movie.

The fun part of our night was the rest of the scarlet theme. We included red foods, red lingerie and red light bulbs in the living room. At least Demi/Hester wasn’t the only one having great elicit sex.

Monday, November 2, 2009

After the Wedding

We had a great time in Baltimore. Stayed with an old friend who is like a sister. I am at home in her home and that makes visiting so easy. Feet on the coffee table, raid the fridge, read her books and dissect our lives in detail. That’s comfort.

The wedding was wonderful. Bride and Groom are 30 years old. In love for 6 years. Already a couple with a dog and habits and already family issues nudging at them. But watching them take their vows you could feel it. They have a bond and tenacity. A year of planning a wedding, going to school, working, changing jobs, deaths in both families and health issues of their own. They have built something that the wedding confirmed rather than created.

Many of the guests were older. Relatives of course, but older friends too. At our table everyone had been married, divorced, partnered and unpartnered. Yet no cynicism, no jadedness. I could feel the room pulling for the newlyweds as they were announced as “Mr. and Mrs.” at the reception. Be the couple that makes it, be the couple that never loses the love, be the couple that proves it can be done. Be that for you and for us.

John and I danced for hours. He said, “I don’t dance” and got up every time. He’s an athlete and musician so of course he’s a good dancer. And to seal the deal there was great music and we were all basking in the love of our young couple.

But I had this twinge the next day and even today. I felt some envy or maybe regret, the passage of time for sure. I know I wanted some of what the bride and groom have: The sense of being at the beginning of their relationship, the start of their lives, the opening act of whatever their story will be. I don’t know what act I’m in—third? Is there a fourth?

Today walking at the gym I had to stop and remind myself: Illness and death will come without my help. I don’t need to rehearse that part of the story. Don’t go looking for it. Instead at times like this notice the good, the love and the delights like this wedding.