Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cancer College

Although I have been back in College now for more than two years, it was not until my cousin Diane gave to this experience the power of metaphor than I am even able to write about it.

But Diane is a cancer survivor, and has taken the much more advanced classes, so to speak. Her wisdom does not come from here but rather, is brought to it. As a mere witness, I have been struggling with myself to even admit that the disease is here and now and a part of my life and far too many of those I love.

But it is, most certainly. Besides Diane, my Mother-in-law, Billie is afflicted with cancer, as is my long-time friend and mentor, Francesca. Of course, Lynda died of the same, so you'd think I'd be past the denial stage by now, wouldn't you? You think that Lynda, with her legendary strength of will and determination to live life gracefully, would have made peace with it in her many advanced seminars prior to her death. It's what I used to think.

Now, what I do know is that these strong and beautiful women--who are not in denial because the have no such luxury--are showing me the way to deal with cancer with grace and dignity. They do not hesitate to talk about it, though I know that they are weary to do so. These wonderful individuals have the ability to uplift those of us who would selfishly decide to be depressed because we are unable to act. In other words, me.

Or so I thought. While I struggle with what to say to them, they have no trouble telling me what I must hear. It is not death, they say, nor even a death sentence, any more than any of us have. All life is a journey, and the length of the journey is not entirely in our hands.

So, Billie tells me that her treatments are going well, even if they make her nauseous and weak at first. Rebounding from the poison has got to feel good, and there is reason to believe that it will arrest the development of the cancer and allow her to continue to travel and create for the foreseeable future. For my part, knowing that she is being active in her self-defense yet reasonable in her expectations is evidence of her profound wisdom and spiritual strength.

Francesca has now survived an operation and a series of chemo/radiation treatments and has similarly showed how a diligent treatment plan coupled with a positive attitude can increase the odds of survival. From her I have learned how much depends on finding the calm at the center of the cyclone, remaining there till the rage and pain have passed.

Diane, too, has written with the news that her surgery was successful and that further treatments will not be required. Though I knew only the outlines of her struggle till I read her most recent note to the family, it is to her spirit, strength and recovery that I credit my release from denial and my ability to write about this at last.

Would that this realization, in addition to the love and respect I have for these women be enough to change their conditions, but that would be hubris. It is enough to know that still here and now.

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