As we slide into 2012, with the holidays upon us, I simply wish to share my thanks and deep appreciation for the support of family and friends during what has been a profoundly trying time. This “new normal,” however unwelcome, has been all the more bearable because of this love.
In less than five months I have endured two brain surgeries, a diagnosis of a rare stage III brain cancer, (anaplastic ependymoma) experienced 33 radiation treatments, filled my body with medicines I would have rather not, had nights of insomnia, days of fatigue and steady headaches. The next MRI is in February and until then we don’t hold our collective breath, we breathe. Deeply.
But the most difficult challenge makes the aforementioned mundane: that of understanding and accepting the magnitude of this disease and what it means for my friends and family and most significantly, for my daughters Hannah and Libby.
While cancer is no “gift,” I can assuredly claim that these events have been a catalyst for some very meaningful and healthy reflection. I have learned, and continue to learn, much about myself, friends, cancer and the capacities of body, mind, heart and soul. It is as if I have been stripped naked. Cancer peels away the veneer of life and allows you to see the intricacies of the grain. Relationships have grown stronger. Honesty is easier. I feel I am able to speak my mind more freely than ever before. Some days I am leaden, as if my body is truly filled with lead. Other days I feel like I am floating, light as a feather, feet never touching the ground.
A recent study revealed that those who are predisposed to anger, grumpiness or irritability become even more so when drunk and that those who are generally happy, become even more exuberant under the influence. I think the same might be said for what happens when one deals with a calamitous event such as this.
I always looked upon those who took on the challenge of aging, injury or disease with a positive outlook with deep respect and appreciation, even when their bodies, and sometimes their minds, were deteriorating. This is not to lay blame or guilt on those faced with chronic pain or disease who become permanently angry, depressed and/or sad. But certainly having, or trying to have, when possible, a positive outlook helps calm the spirit.
Recently I met with a friend who had a very large brain tumor, removed nearly two years ago, resulting in some paralysis and loss of sight. After enduring countless hours of physical therapy and rehabilitation, he is now living on his own and recently became a licensed massage therapist. His outlook has always been positive, facing challenge with humor and even a little sarcasm to help heal the emotional scars of such a life-altering event. We spoke of the sad days, the lonely times. The change in the nature of some friendships, some for the better, some for the worse. The challenges physical and emotional. But we both agreed that while sadness and anger is a natural, normal reaction, there was little time to waste crying in our collective bowls of oatmeal. There is still too much to live for and to look forward to.
I absolutely love the Christmas season. Much has to do with my love of winter, my own childhood memories, the holiday music, the trees, the parties, the lights, the traditions. Handel’s Messiah and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or Charlie Brown’s Christmas. It is a time to get sentimental and revel. Yes, there is the dark side: the smarminess, hypocrisy, and crass commercialism. But you would have to be a complete curmudgeon to loathe all of it. I suppose the world needs curmudgeons to keep things on the level. But it is the essence of the holiday spirit, that of giving thanks and of giving back that is at the root of all of this warmth.
“Santa Claus wears a Red Suit, he must be a communist. And a beard and long hair, must be a pacifist. What’s in that pipe that he’s smoking?” –Arlo Guthrie
So on that note, I wish to give back and not just in this season of giving but as a self-proclaimed lifelong mission from here on. That 95% of those who have anaplastic ependymoma brain cancer are children makes this cause all the more meaningful. There is a saying in the world of fundraising: “don’t give until it hurts, give until it feels good.” In addition to my beloved day job raising funds for The Putney School, I have volunteered myself for several projects to push awareness of brain cancer to the front lines and for cancer in general. I am helping ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure), assisting on a film project based on Dr. Mukherjee’s must-read book “Emperor of all Maladies, a Biography of Cancer” and supporting my daughter Hannah’s efforts to start a national cancer support organization for high school students. Libby wishes to do the same within her school. Recently I offered my blog to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center to use as they wish. Much to my delighted surprise, they issued the appeal below for their annual fund drive. They have already seen an increased response rate and contributions.
The girls and I are heading to see family in Philadelphia next week and then New York City for the new year. On New Year’s day, along with friend Buck and his family, we will partake in a cleansing of sorts, although I am unsure if cleanse is the right word as we jump into the frigid waters off Coney Island for the Annual Polar Bear Swim. Finally, I leave this year of 2011 with the salve of James and Yo-Yo. Here Comes the Sun…indeed.
Thank you. Happy holidays and a most happy new year! Live. Laugh. Love.
“New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions” – Mark Twain