Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

11/17/2008

Cancer’s Lessons

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:50 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Through a circuitous route, I stumbled across an article by Tony Snow, a speech writer and media consultant for President George H. W. Bush.

Mr. Snow died on July 12, 2008, after fighting cancer, twice. Before he passed away, however, he wrote this article for Christianity Today, titled Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings. Go, read the article, then, if you can stomach some more, come back and I’ll share with you some of my thoughts on slow-dancing with death for the better part of a year.

We humans spend a lot of time worrying about death. Perhaps not on an individual basis, but in the aggregate, we spend a lot of time trying to avoid death, to hide from it, to deny it. When I was diagnosed with cancer almost two years ago, I could no longer hide from it or feel myself into thinking that it was a long way off. It could be tomorrow, next week, months from now, or years, but I’m going to die. In fact, we all are, sooner or later. I’ve heard it said that death is the one thing we all have in common. None of use make it out of here alive.
So, what does that mean? On a practical level, what does it mean to know that I’m going to die? It means that every moment is borrowed time. Every experience, no matter how painful or uncomfortable, is an opportunity to learn something, about myself, about my world or about my God. Frankly, it’s hard to put into words. I think that only someone who’s been close to death really gets it deep down in the bones where words don’t quite reach. Because, you see, when I was there, when I was right close to taking my last breath, I was convinced that it wasn’t quite time yet. Only later, when I’d had a chance to think about it did I truly understand how close I’d come to being gone. When I was there, when the Angel of Death had me in that cold, bony bear-hug, it was the farthest thing from my mind. Then, all I could think about was living. All I could think about was seeing people I missed, doing things that I wanted to do. Maybe trying to correct a few of the mistakes I’d made along the way and, hopefully, God willing, have time enough to take another shot at some of those things and do ’em right this time around.
Naturally, when I was first diagnosed, I was quite upset. I felt cheated, like God owed me so many more years of life and taking that away from me was unfair. That, however, didn’t last nearly as long as I would have thought.

In another article on MSN, I read “Learning you have cancer and going through treatment can dramatically affect a person’s life. Cancer can be isolating, and depression affects up to 38 percent of cancer patients.” My thought when I read that was, “No shit”. Who can understand something like this? How can you explain it? A fellow cancer survivor, and a good friend of mine, talked about going to the doctor after getting diagnosed to “…see how badly my body had betrayed me.” And, that, as much as anything, sums up that weird feeling of loss and surprise and gut-checking impact when the diagnosis is made, then confirmed. It knocks you off your emotional feet, stalls your motivational momentum, and kicks you in your spiritual nut-sack. Suddenly, every uncomfortable moment becomes more precious than any commodity you’ve ever owned. You find yourself suddenly willing to trade any possession, no matter how precious, for a just a few more minutes in the embrace of an old friend, or the bed of an old lover. Some, like me, may find themselves longing to know the mind of God, but without the big rush to look Him in the eye to ask the questions.
It’s funny, when I think of it now, how many times I’ve contemplated killing myself over the years. Well, it’s funny in light of how many radioactive enemas I’ve had, and how much personal dignity I’ve traded, all in the effort to squeeze a few more minutes out of this drab, pre-processed world of ours. Not too many years before my diagnosis, I was at one of those points. It’d been a rough year, or two or three, and I thought I was done, finally. But, God had a few lessons left to teach me, a few things for me, perhaps, to teach someone else, so I’m still here, flailing about for words to express the unexpressible.

In the end, what cancer taught me was something I thought I’d learned from that old poet, Warren Zevon, several years before, when he was dying of cancer. It was a quote, from his last live TV appearance on the David Letterman Show that appeared on the VH1 retrospective, which I watched again while I wrote the last bit of this post. After long last, I finally understand just how much to enjoy every sandwich.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"That old law 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind."
   --Martin Luther King

2 Comments

  1. As I’m going through another round of tests myself your post struck a cord with me. I learned the lesson of not trying to control that which I can’t control. I’ve tried to find the one thing in a sometimes horrible day to say WOW that’s what it’s about. Last week when I got some questionable news while driving home autumn was in its zenith and I took a deep breath…that moment of unbridled beauty held the happiness I needed and will need for days to come. Thanks for the post…I means a lot.

    Comment by Jenn — 11/17/2008 @ 8:55 am

  2. Jenn, I’m sorry that you’re getting less than stellar news as you go through testing. I’ve known for a long time, though I forget often, that the only thing I can truly control in the world is my attitude about what comes my way. Well, that and where I direct my efforts toward improvement, in my life or others’ lives.
    The trick, for me, is to keep all that in mind when I’m not on the brink of death and just trying to live my life and make my way through the world. I think that’s why Zevon’s comment about enjoying every sandwich hit home. It’s a kind of mindfullness that I seek to cultivate, to remember that every sandwich may be the last one, so I need to enjoy every bit of it.

    Also, I think, a good thing for me to keep in my as Thanksgiving approaches.

    Comment by the Network Geek — 11/17/2008 @ 9:22 am

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