Word was all over the country yesterday that Elizabeth Edwards has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I think everyone’s hearts went out to her and to her family. To have this kind of news on the very same day that the Kerry-Edwards team had to concede must have been unimaginably difficult. (It occurred to me that maybe the silver lining to the cloud of not winning the election was that John Edwards will have much more time to attend to his wife and children in the next four years).
Cancer. I am a cancer survivor. My mother is a long-time cancer survivor. My brother-in-law has just been diagnosed. My father had it. My grandmother and grandfather had it. Our sweet little cat Natasha just died of cancer. It seems like every time you turn around, there it is. We all know someone, either in our family or in our sphere of friends who has dealt with some form of cancer.
Today I have to go for my six-month follow-up CAT-scan to make sure the cancer has not returned. (It’s been two and a half years since the recurrence). Part of me is very anxious. As this day approached, I found myself sleeping less deeply, waking more frequently, and palpating my own stomach trying to discern if anything had changed. There’s a whole deep, dark world in there beneath the skin – a whole universe that we don’t fully understand. I want to believe that I’ll be fine. I want to believe that I am cured. I want to believe that I’ll live to be a centenarian with the minimal health problems. And I do my best to insure that outcome. I take vitamins and supplements and Tamoxifen and all that good stuff. I exercise. I eat lots of good fruits and vegetables. I drink soy milk. I live a pretty unstressful life. I have a terrific support network. I feel connected with the spiritual. So . . .?
So – Last week I got a doozy of a cold. I mean I had a low-grade fever, chills, runny nose, sore throat, congestion, headaches, swollen glands – classic cold. Of course I ran to the drug store for my homeopathic remedy, as well as Tylenol Cold (you have to hedge your bets), made myself a steaming pot of vegetable soup, ate a slew of fresh oranges, sucked on zinc lozenges, used sinus rinse (don’t ask), even took a few Chinese herbs (not my favorite thing to do). I allowed myself to loll in bed for hours every day. I allowed my husband to bring me dinner in bed. The outcome is that one week later, I am slowly getting over my cold. (Would the outcome have been any different if I had just ignored the whole thing? We’ll never know).
And so it is with all diseases, I suppose. You do the best you can. You use every weapon in your arsenal to battle the malady. You use common sense, intuition, medical science, and whatever hocus pocus makes sense to you – and then you have to accept that there are some things we simply can’t control. It’s a balance between fight and acceptance, very much like the A.A. prayer, “. . . to change the things I can not accept, to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference”. And then you just figure – as I said to my sister this morning – “Well, I’m gonna live till I die!” My sister (a miraculous survivor of a brain aneurysm) said “Amen” to that one. It’s all any of us can do.
For those of you who are fearful of cancer and want to duck out of the room just hearing the word, I have one small bit of advice. Allow yourself to become desensitized to the word. Instead of thinking of cancer as being synonymous with death, think of it the way you think of the word “cold” or “flu”. Not something you would choose for yourself, certainly – potentially dangerous – but absolutely survivable under most circumstances. Think of Lance Armstrong – (I always do). And remember, if it’s your time, it’s your time. You could slip on a banana peel, too, but few of us worry about such things.
And Mrs. Edwards, know that our hearts are with you.