Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The dreaded "C" word...

My father died of lung cancer three and a half years ago. My closest maternal uncle, Uncle John, died of prostate cancer two months ago. His daughter, Aprelle, who is not only my cousin but also my godmother, is battling bone cancer even as I write. Several aunts and uncles on my mother's side have died of various forms of cancer during my lifetime. Alyssa, the nine-year old friend of my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia yesterday. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, on Monday morning I was the interpreter at the funeral of Marta, a 42-year-old mother of two, who died of cancer last Thursday. Caroline, the seven-month old daughter of a dear friend of ours has already gone through four rounds of chemo, had surgery, and has four more rounds of chemo left before the end of the year. Cindy, one of my dearest and oldest friends is a seven-or-eight- year survivor of breast cancer that claimed both of her breasts. In March of 2002, Leza, my best friend from college died of complications from colon cancer that had spread to her brain. And she was the strictest vegetarian I have ever known - except for her final days when she broke down and asked for barbecued beef ribs and Pepsi. I was honored and thrilled to be the one to go to the restaurant and pay for her to eat them one last time. How on earth did she get colon cancer? Well, one answer to that question is that her mother died of ovarian cancer when Leza was just a few short years out of college. We all have sad stories and sobering statistics to add to this list. Whenever I see a woman with a flowery scarf, boldly colorful bandana, or silky kerchief tied over a hairless scalp, I want to hug her quietly and then scream loudly. Where did this awful disease come from and when are we gonna be done with it? Why do the cause for it and the cure for it elude us so efficiently? Why? Sean, my masters' degree thesis advisor was a remarkably honest man. When faced with a question he didn't have an answer for, he simply stated, "I have no coherent answer for that question." This is one of those inquiries for which there is no coherent reply. Cancer sucks. It evervates. It paralyzes. It demoralizes. It debilitates. It tortures. It kills. I myself had a breast cancer scare just last month. I will never be able to thank Brenda, the mammography technician, enough for her kind and supportive words, as well as her clear explanations for everything we saw on the various scans she did. When I left the mammography office, I saw the bewildered and horrified face of a woman whose news had obviously not been as good as mine. I cannot imagine the agony she faces with the treatments and surgeries that are sure to come. As I walked out of the Ob-Gyn office that awful day late in September knowing that I would have to undergo a diagnostic mammogram to figure out the nature of the lump I had found, I swore to myself that I would live my life as fully as possible no matter how much time I had left. I promised myself I would call my friends and family, send out letters, emails, and postcards telling all the people I love that indeed I love them. I promised myself I would always do the optimistic thing. I would find the silver lining in every cloud, look at the bright side, and be thankful in every situation. On October 7th, when I found out that all was well, I reiterated those promises. I reminded myself that I am not released from those promises simply because I had learned that the lumps were nothing to worry about. There is still war raging around the world. Famine, disease, abuse, addictions, crime, and a host of other earthly ills claim lives every day. Volcanoes erupt. Hurricanes blow through the South. Snow storms strand hikers in out of the way places. A family that was in our church two Sundays died in a plane crash this past weekend. Not one of us knows how long we have to live - even when the medical test results are "negative." So I "take the plunge" more readily nowadays, take more risks, and no longer hesitate to pray for and then make contact with friends when they cross my mind. I approached Lauren on Monday night after her great talk on spiritual memoirs and extended my hand in friendship. I sent an email to Rebecca, a friend from years ago whose smile, laughter, and wisdom I miss. I wish her all the best with her soon-to-arrive baby. I called David in California to check in on my favorite handyman. I sent a postcard to Antonio, the best Jesuit priest I know. I leave countless phone messages for friends whose companionship on this journey called life I treasure. I send out emails that are far too long, give out way too many details, and ask way too many personal questions. I began to keep this blog so that I would have more opportunities share my love for words, my love for life, and above all, my love for my friends with my friends. But right now I'm gonna turn off the computer so I can go call my cousin and see how she's doing. Traveling mercies to you, Gail

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