I light three candles on my windowsill each night to keep in my consciousness three colleagues who are wrestling with cancer. Two are older friends, one living in Hana, Maui, HI, and the other, on Saipan. I snuffed the third for a former nurse friend from Lexington MA, after she finally succumbed a week ago to the deleterious effect of the errant cells medically referred to as malignant neoplasm.
I just started lighting a new one for a friend currently in Honolulu who I consider to be still at a tender age in the early spring of her sunset. She is actually just a month younger than I am, which makes her condition a little bit more closer to home.
All told, there are more than 200 known categories of cancer, with 3-5 percent of the population inheriting them. Although we have supported and marched with the Red Cross’ raising of awareness and funds in its fight against cancer, we tend to go with Norman Cousins, the former editor of Saturday Review, who battled reactive arthritis for 10 years before he finally succumbed to heart failure.
His famous quote was: "I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval." He managed his disease rather than let it manage him. Diagnosed to not last more than a year, he managed to live past a decade of laughter before he called out his final ten-four.
We were diagnosed with spondylosis in 2008. Told to go under the scalpel to remove unnecessary calcium deposits in our cervical vertebrae (a degenerative osteoarthritis), we declined for reasons written earlier in this column, not the least of which is the CNMI’s default in covering our medical care as a PSS employee, and the indeterminate length of the time it took to do referrals were one to opt for off-island therapy rather than the fear-laden surgery ambience at CHC.
In fact, we had to travel to Pea Eye for our MRI, just so we can determine the extent of what we had to deal with.
I also have two children diagnosed with ASD, autism spectrum disorder. In both my condition and theirs, the normal approach is to be laden with anxiety, and short on actually living with the disorders. We do have the option not to be victims!
The four ladies aforementioned have all shown the courage of looking their conditions in the eye and responding accordingly. To be sure, they employ the best that medicine can offer, but they do not spread the infectious disease of fear and despair. I know too many people who derive satisfaction in whining about their condition, as if the sympathy elicited from colleagues and their demonstrated grief somehow deal with one’s ability to survive the disease. One does not survive cancer. We decide to live with it.
That finally is the reason for the lit candle on my windowsill.
The spread of fear has been a misunderstood motivation to generate action and change. Feminist author Naomi Wolf wrote The End of America where she mentions 10 ways fear is inflicted upon citizens by dictators to toe the accepted line and behave accordingly. She makes the case that all 10 were employed by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in WWII, and are standard modus operandi for fascist regimes. They have become to her disturbing marks in our national governance.
Mentioning this can easily be perceived as a non sequitur to our reflection on cancer, but the context of fear as the motivating factor in guiding one’s behavior is a very convincing argument against the efficacious management of any human situation. Incidentally, in the film version of her book, she employs the same fear tactic that she decries. Her analysis even begins with the observation that the nation’s constitutional writers did so, not out of a sense of freedom, or hope for a new world, but out of fear of the rulers from whom the nation’s patriarchs were running away from.
Again, we personalize our comments on cancer, or any debilitating disease one may have, or any challenging situation one may be facing. The external situation is never our contradiction, a mantra we’ve repeated many times in our pedagogy. It is our relationship to our situation that constrains our acting intentionally and responsibly.
As a nation, we are gripped by the paroxysm of fear, making us behave in what the world sees as an arrogant but insecurely defensive manner post-9/11.
Michelle Obama reportedly added a kitchen vegetable garden to the White House grounds that also hosts the famed Rose Garden. Cultivating a life with invasive cancer is probably led better with the vegetables rather than the roses.
My lady friends will do well to stick to their green veggies. They can manage their cancer well rather than have the cancer manage them. Meanwhile, I will keep my three candles aglow.