Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Comfort for a friend

Let me tell you about a friend of mine.  Let's call him Bob.

I'll give you the short version.  I'm not sure I have the right to give all the details.  Bob has about as kind a heart as you could ask of anyone.  Active in his church, always willing to help a friend, car constantly loaded with food to donate, he was the first person to offer me a ride should I need one during my radiation. 

Recently, Bob found himself in the hospital.  His blood work was worrying.  Like, "they need to run some more tests but I think it's leukemia" worrying.  He was supposed to get his results yesterday, but he didn't come in to work.  I took that as a bad sign, and spent a few hours last night thinking of what I would say to him. 

People always use the same metaphor, when trying to comfort the dying.  "Anyone could step off the sidewalk and get run over by a truck."  It's supposed to emphasize how ephemeral life is, and how no one is guaranteed as much time as they deserve.  But if you step off the curb and get flattened, it's because you didn't see the truck.  I see my truck coming.  It's a long way off, and there isn't much I can do to get out of the way.  So no, having cancer is not like getting hit by a truck, though the point does remain that people with cancer still can get hit by trucks.  Just kind of assumed that wasn't really the main point since, well, no shit. 

So I think having cancer is more like getting tied to the railroad tracks, like you'd see in those old Westerns.  You're stuck.  Death is inevitable.  You can hear it coming.  See it.  Feel it.  It's hard to judge how far away it is, but it's clear that it is on its way, and the closer it gets the more its thunderous heart shakes your body to the core.  The more its call drowns out all other sound.  The more real it becomes.

But you don't have to focus on the train.  You can still see the clouds, and the sky, and the mountains.  You can feel the breeze and the sun on your skin.  You can smell blooming wildflowers and fresh grass.  You can listen to rustle of the trees, and the bird songs. 

And you can fight.  You can struggle against your bonds.  Maybe you'll break free, and even if you don't, there is something to be gained in the effort, if only the pride that comes with fighting to your last, and the inspiration that brings others.

Turns out Bob doesn't have leukemia.  He's still sick, but what he has is manageable.  My train metaphor no longer really applies, so I figured I'd leave it here.  I kind of like it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Woody Roseland gets it

 "When staring cancer in the face, you learn who you are."  - Woody Roseland
I almost feel arrogant, offering this man my approval as if I were some sort of arbiter when it comes to thoughts on cancer.  He's been through it five times and it cost him a leg.  Still, so much of what he says resonates with me so deeply, by its truth or by coincidence: like me, he went through his first bout with another patient who had the same diagnosis, and was also experiencing it for the first time, at the same time.  Except his friend has lost his battle.  Should I outlive my friend, I wonder if I'll respond to it in the same way.  I wonder if I'll have that guilt and rage that, by the luck of the draw, someone with whom I shared a unique bond is dead while I am not.  I wonder how Will will feel if he outlives me.  The biggest difference is that Woody's friend was only 8 years old.  I consider myself lucky that Will is more my age.  We can communicate on a higher level, as adults.  That, and I can distance myself from the fact that for as young as I may be, there are always younger patients dealt worse hands.  I at least got the chance to grow up.

Woody also produced this video, aptly titled, "S#!% Cancer Patients Say."  Good stuff.