I did not know the ESPN sportscaster who died . But I felt the loss in the same way as so many of my friends who knew him did; those who watched his shows , who were touched by cancer themselves and to whom he had become an inspiration. My brother who has lived in Chicago for decades said he liked him and that Scot Stuart had been a good man. His quote about it was how you lived and why you lived and the manner in which you lived that beat cancer touched me and made me think of all the patients I work with and who are such an integral part of my life .
Like Rajeev . Unlike Scot Stuart , I had known Rajeev . For more than a dozen years . Rajeev too died of cancer a week ago. And I had seen him face the shock of the diagnosis , cope with it , and build a new life around his cancer . He fought , yes. He coped , yes. He lived . Then it all came crashing down and he died . I never felt so angry . So helpless . And yes , so guilty .
How come I could not do anything to save him from death and from that inglorious defeat by cancer. Watching Stuart Scot's broadcasting partner pay him that touching tribute I too felt his sorrow . and I think eventually his comment , “flip the pillow over to the cool side and keep fighting " made me think it was not such a bad idea after all . On restless nights when sleep eludes us , haven’t we all done just that ? And found some relief ? However low our spirits sink , there is always something that we can do . That is the life force that takes us ahead.
A dear friend lost his father yesterday and I went to offer condolences and grieved with him. His first words to me summed it all up ; all that he felt at that moment . It’s over , he said. Just that . It’s over . And then his little nephew , his father’s beloved little grandson came rushing into the room , a happy smile on his face and joyous laughter gurgling from within ,washing over all of us . In that one second I knew it was not over . And as my friend looked at his nephew in some kind of wonder I knew that he too knew it was not over . nothing will ever be over as long as there is laughter and sunshine in this world . As long as those who survive those who have passed on live and breathe and laugh and smile . The battle is never over. The fight is endless . Yet there is no defeat . Life wins . All the time .
Something else is niggling at my mind ...why is it that when we talk of cancer , it is always in martial metaphors ? I myself ended the last paragraph using one . Waging a war against cancer , winning the battle , not losing to cancer and so on . I know that recently this was questioned . As opposed to someone winning the battle against cancer , were we implying that some did not fight hard enough ? And therefore lost the war ? Went down dying?
My friend’s father died of a liver ailment . Not of cancer . Did he not fight his condition? Why do we use these metaphors of war only for cancer ? Is it because aggression is the only way to deal with it ?
We are constantly exhorting loved ones "suffering' from cancer to be "positive " , to "fight " , to not "surrender " to " be strong" ..... Working with so many patients myself , I am guilty too of mouthing what may seem like platitudes.
Is it because Cancer is insidious in its manifestation and more often than not tends to take one by surprise ? Is it because one has to take to arms with powerful and equally if not more deadly measures to deal with it ? Is it because it is only cancer that choreographs a war dance which demonstrates the confrontation between Nature and Science ? You take one step ahead and the other brings into play another manoeuvre ?
One of my little patients told me that he visualised the chemo inside him being released like an army of "good" soldiers to go in and kill the " bad " cancer cells . He said he felt so safe and secure when he thought that way . It was his own play station inside his little body . And he felt in "control " . He would win the game .
Maybe that's why we feel we can wage the war against cancer. Because winning is always a possibility . And now , more and more , a certainty .
So, Death be not proud . Not any more .