Saturday, April 4, 2015


I love to watch documentaries. I particularly love watching them on Saturday afternoons. There is nothing like whiling away a Saturday with a PBS marathon of nonfiction TV. So, today, it seemed like a great idea to spend two hours viewing Ken Burns' new documentary, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

It seemed like a good idea.

Did the thought cross my mind that watching a documentary on the "malady" that ultimately took one of my parents away from me less than six months ago was perhaps not a great idea for my Saturday afternoon at home? No, it did not. I guess I am just that much of a documentary nerd (and who doesn't love a good Ken Burns flick?)

This is a great documentary/book, but viewers/readers beware: You will not get through it without feeling your own mortality. What's worse, the first episode focuses on the fate of children with leukemia. It follows the history of the search for a cure as well as modern-day children who are afflicted with the disease.

After spending nearly six years suffering through the illness/disability and death of a loved-one, one of the most difficult things for me is watching other people suffer. I can barely stand it. The scenes in this film where parents agonize over life and death choices - which drugs to try, which drugs to avoid, which risks to take in the efforts to save a child...

It's like this: Most people will never know the horrors of taking up residence in an Intensive Care Unit. Most people will not experience the terror of watching a doctor try to explain, via whiteboard and dry erase marker, how there is "good news and bad news" about the fate of your loved one.

The thing most people will never have to know is that, when you watch a loved one suffer in and out of the reaches of an untimely death, you start to wish that the one who is suffering is you. Because, you are suffering anyway. But you are suffering as a bystander. There is nothing you can do but wring your hands and stumble through decision after decision all while comforting other people who are too uncomfortable to visit your loved one. Because some people want to, "just remember him the way he used to be."

The thing about cancer is that, at least for my dad, the train has left the station. The colon cancer that paid a visit back in the Shitastic Summer of 2009 is now long gone and dust. It's weird because, cancer is this foreign, living, alien growth. It grows and feeds off you. But it is you, in a way; rebellious cells gone haywire. 

You end up developing a relationship with it. You do fundraisers for it. You dedicate money to it. You assign it a color and you dedicate yourself to fighting it. You sometimes get so sick of it that you make fun of it. 

But, in the end, no matter what you do to try to deal, cancer does not care. Cancer is non-feeling, unemotional, and unaware of all your efforts to address it. No matter what you do to deal with it, cancer couldn't care less. Cancer just does not give a fuck.

So, I am sitting here watching the documentary, wishing that I was watching Ken Burns' documentary on Baseball, Jazz or the National Parks instead. I consider turning it off and going outside, but, I don't. I just sit here, sullen, sorry for myself, and, a little bit scared.

Because, see, I have no idea what I would do if I had cancer. I really do not know. I have the luxury of knowing at least one peer who also lost a parent to cancer, and the two of us have discussed this; the fact that if either of us were given a cancer diagnosis, that we might...just maybe...not treat it.

That is the oxymoronic thing about treating cancer. The efforts to treat it (cut it out, poison it, cut it out and poison it some more) are often what kill you. It is so barbaric (and sort of pathetic) that we humans are reduced to launching lawn darts at this big, non-feeling beast that has taken over our insides since the beginning of humankind. Do you know that cancer has even been detected in dinosaur bones? What an annoying, uninvited, clingy asshole cancer is.

I had titled this post as "Growth" because I was going to somehow explain how, through suffering and facing down death with quiet courage, cancer has helped me and my family grow as human beings. And cancer is also a growth, double-entendre, etc. etc. But, no. I am leaving it here. Screw growth, I am so sick of cancer I could kick it in the teeth. 

Cancer, you are such a loser, I am not even going to talk about how you've helped me grow as a human because I was growing up just fine on my own without you, thank you very much.

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