Inauguration InspiriationJanuary 20, 2009
“I’m lucky to be alive.” These words are uttered in the shadows of car wrecks, outside of burning buildings, and in ER’s all across the world. However, it struck me today that I don’t often invoke these words enough in light of joyous occasions. Why is it that I don’t praise a higher being while holding a glass of wine on a lakeside dock, hugging my nieces after a community theatre performance or while smelling the rosemary simmering in a juicy pot roast? On a day like today, I am inspired to give thanks. Today, I can look out my frosted window at the grey snow and know that the 12 degree temps will not stop me should I choose to run errands or visit friends. Today, while my fingers sting with each stroke of the keys, while my hair sheds on every surface, while I anxiously await the results of my latest CT scan; I celebrate the fact that I can share my experience with others with the ease of a typewriter made to broadcast small voices to the greater world.
President Obama said on the eve of his election, “as we breathe, we hope…” and I find those words so important to the ongoing challenge I face with a heartbreaking disease. Every day that I breathe, I must find a way to look beyond the side effects and discover what I can do. I want desperately to continue to help my family with their feelings of anger and sadness and refuse to accept any form of pity. I pledge to find it in myself everyday to rise above any obstacles that cancer or treatment may hand me and join the masses of the healthy and the strong in saying, “Yes, I can.”
We are called by our new leader to service and charity in our communities, but I see my personal challenge in a different light. I marvel at my fellow cancer patients, who decorate hospital rooms for holidays, who sport hats on the subway that say “FUCK CANCER”, and who crack jokes about their bald heads. I believe our first and foremost call to action is to kick this goddamn disease in its weak ass and give those 5 year survival rates the double bending quad middle finger. Along the way, I should relish everyday that I am not hooked up to an IV and support those who are. Every one of us saddled with the effects of tumors and chemo and radiation need to find it in ourselves between every barf to lift our heads to the sky and say “not today motherfucker, you will not get me today.” We must focus, meditate, or pray to find that steely calm that lets us get out of that hospital bed and take a lap around the floor tethered to an IV. Today, some higher being gave us the gift of another sunrise and dammit we better make something of it.
Just as our forefathers struggled and died for freedom, our dearest family and friends have been taken by cancer. For those who have volunteered for clinical trials and endured the earliest incarnations of chemotherapy so that we may have a longer and more dignified life, we must be grateful and strong. My doctors sometimes worry that I don’t “get it” because I don’t wring my hands or shake my fist at how unfair it all is, and I certainly don’t sport watery eyes of fear. Oh, I get it. Trust me. I do. I realize that five years ago, doctors would not have even bothered to operate on me, but sent me directly into palliative care. I know that I will likely deal with reoccurrences throughout my life. But dammit, I’m here right now and I am going to find some freakin joy in it every day.
I saw women and men of color weep today as a man who might have been refused service in a restaurant just 40 years ago, was sworn in as the leader of the free world. I can only imagine Rev. Joseph Lowery’s thoughts as his voice trembled only for a moment before “when black doesn’t have to be in the back”. I saw an enviable delight in Yo Yo Ma’s face as he played before a nation filled with hope. We cannot let this feeling of possibility pass as the days go on. Please, channel what you feel in your heart today and find a way to make a difference, however small, to anyone in pain. Volunteer your time and skills to a support center, join a fundraising event team, or simply click “donate now” on standup2cancer.org. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when friends and family brought me dinner, watched movies with me, or just sat on the couch and listened. Even those of us in treatment can visit, email, call, or even text those who are watching their pre-meds drip or recovering on a couch at home. We can all help one another, even in some small way, while we conquer this disease.
I owe my life to the research and technology that has developed in just the last five years. Let’s channel the momentum of today and inspire new drugs, more gentle treatments, and a long overdue cure. We have seen that great change, in both medicine and society, is possible in a relatively short amount of time. I am confident that something as trivial as a nosebleed will never hold me back. I have, and will continue to shove Kleenex up my nose, make the coffee, check my email and move on with my day, even if I have a schnoz full of tissue. My body may lag behind my brain a bit, but my spirit will drag them both into each new day. I am lucky to be alive.