Thursday, November 25, 2010

Montaigne on Death

I’m reading Sarah Bakewell’s new biography of Montaigne. Wonderful format: she writes one question: How to live? And answers it in 20 essays giving glimpses into Montaigne’s life and writing and thinking.

A near death experience was a key to his life and thinking. He wrote:

“If you don’t know how to die don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it. Life is more difficult than death; instead of passive surrender, it takes attention and management. It can also be more painful.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Little Rebel Cancer Cell

A story today in New York Times about dentist’s use of radiation. Dentistry radiation is not regulated and the levels in the new machines are higher etc. It got me thinking again about that little cancer cell. It’s that one lone cell that goes off in the wrong direction—that changes—that starts the cancer. That one “trouble-making” cell.

But what if that cell, that little guy is—however misguided—trying to save our lives? I mean, look at what we do—the chemicals we eat all day long, the medications we take all of our lives, the radiation we pour into human bodies to check for cavities and broken bones and acne. All good stuff by themselves. And all the things in our environment that have changed in 50 years. Maybe none of it is dangerous by itself—I am not a “don’t drink out of plastic bottles” girl. But what might be the collective effect?

And that one cell—Brave? Misguided? Hopeful? Says, “No” and heads for the door. “I am gonna change”, she says. And yes the door turns out to be a wall or a cliff—but the little cell says, “Enough, I’m changing.”

Can you blame her, really?

The little cell tries something new—tries growing—tries changing—and it starts a reaction that becomes cancer.

Haven’t we all done this? Had enough of the pain, the problems, the same old same old and said—“That’s it I’m trying something, anything”. We tried to go blonde when we had olive skin, or tried to lose weight using diet pills. Or we tried plastic surgery or Botox. Enough said. We have all done bad relationships, bad jobs, joined groups that turned out to be cults or just enormous wastes of time. We say, “It’s just part of growth” when we do it or our favorite nephew does it.

But the little cell that tries to change—we declare a war on her.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Our Friend Fear

I heard from a reader today (Thank you V.) who wrote about the fear. Yes, we can call it “the” fear. Fear for caregivers is so fluid and shape-shifting and paralyzing. Hardly anyone in Cancer Land talks about this. Of course we read and hear about the fears of the patient—fear of diagnosis, surgery, the fear before tests and maybe after. Awful yes –but nurses and case managers and doctors forget that other person often sitting in the room.

The fear that we caregivers live with is also disabling. What makes it even harder is the constant feeling that we can’t complain about it or express our suffering. In most cases we are not the one with cancer and that presumes that we are the one that can still go to work (not really) and still sleep (not really) and are not in physical pain (not really).

If only it was a fear that stays still like a fear of flying or a fear of snakes. But caregiver fear is a hydra with many heads and a demon that shifts its shape. It takes bad news ten different ways and then takes good news—“He’ll live” (but how?) or “They said yes to more chemo” (to what end result?) and that becomes six new ways to be scared.

Fear is our friend with a major personality disorder. Our dear Sybil—with us all the time and ever so vigilant as our constant companion.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Like Keith Richards Inside Us

Today is the official publication date for “The Emperor of Maladies” by Mukherjee. It is being widely and wonderfully reviewed. In Sundays New York Times Book Review this quote:

“Cell growth is the secret of living, the source of our ability to build, adapt, repair ourselves; and cancer cells are rebels among our own cells that outrace the rest. If we seek immortality, Mukherjee writes, then so too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell.”

Is that cancer cell rebel –in its little black leather jacket and bad eyeliner --simply misunderstood?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

You Can't Kill Cancer

The reviews continue and the controversy picks up for Dr. Mukhergee’s biography of cancer-- “The Emperor of All Maladies”.

Here is another quote from the book:

Cancer is a flaw in our growth, but this flaw is deeply entrenched in ourselves. We can rid ourselves of cancer, then, only as much as we can rid ourselves of the processes in our physiology that depend on growth—aging, regeneration, healing and reproduction.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

War (on cancer) What is it Good for?

I’m reading “The Emperor of Maladies” – this new book is a psycho-socio-historical story of cancer and Cancer. The book is being heavily reviewed right now and everyone in Cancer Land is going to cringe a little or a lot. Those of us who love in the time of cancer will also be nodding and crying but cheering too.

The author Mukherjee –an oncologist--is able to break down the language, culture, economics and the politics of cancer.

From the review in November 8 2010 New Yorker magazine:

“But it’s hard to wage a war against a poorly defined enemy. If the enemy (cancer) doesn’t define itself, then you can configure the enemy you need for the war that you want to fight. That’s what happened with the war on cancer. It gave definite form, Mukherjee says, to an adversary that was essentially formless.”

“Cancer --a disease of colossal diversity—was recast as a single monolithic entity. In this way the War on Cancer resembles less the war on Nazi Germany than the War of Terror.”

In fact it is simply that: a war on terror. The war on cancer is designed to increase our fear of mortality, our fear of death and ultimately our fear of life.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Basket Ball with Balls

Tuesday night we went to the Basket Ball—the regional event for Coaches vs. Cancer—a fundraiser by the American Cancer Society. Pure brilliance in combining sports, sports fans, men, booze, cheerleaders, sports memorabilia and a podium of tear-filled stories and sports metaphors.

It was moving and the stories of loss and endurance were powerful. Perhaps what moved me the most was the clear evidence of service: by cancer volunteers and coaches—people with plenty busy schedules who gave even more to help this cause.

I realized that this is what I respect most of all—regardless of the cause or the issue—people who will step up, raise their hand, open their calendar—even more than their checkbook—and volunteer for what they believe in.