Toward the end of this week, it’s been a good news period. What was thought last weekend to be a serious infection turned out to be just a blip and a consultation with my oncologist revealed that my tumour is in full retreat. The past 16 or so weeks have been the most sideways of journeys. I’ve maintained all along that the colon cancer diagnosis was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. The worst is self-evident: cancer, (in a delicate area, no less) is a horrific, frightening and greasy thing – fraught with callous personal invasions and night terrors you feel in your bones. But in my personal journey with it anyway, it is also something of a beauty. A grand, vivid and beautiful nightmare if you will. A respect beyond reproach must be granted to a relatively small mass that can put a grown man mercilessly on his knees.
Spending a couple of months throughout what you’re told is a spectacular summer, mostly unable to explore it by one’s own means really engenders one to appreciate the green on the leaves on the branches on the trees. Time spent convalescing is more often than not spent in isolation, and that isolation and that time and that stark confrontation of self; all commanding reflection. The most significant take away from that reflection in this age of innovation – innovation at a near violent rate – that humankind, speaking broadly, is powerless. Humankind has evolved into a class all onto it’s own in the animal kingdom, developing not only the skill sets for technological growth but a sophisticated system of caring for one another. The complex operation we’ve forged to join our brothers and sisters in arms to confront brutality is spectacular. But it doesn’t negate the existence of the brutality nor does it mean that we are bigger than it – we really aren’t. Brutality, but also beauty, want, mercy and pain – and many many more – are all forces that are bigger than us.
An abstract anecdote I’ve enjoyed sharing recently is the comparison of my career in media and politics to the struggle with this illness. In work you learn quickly that there isn’t a problem so big that a well placed phone call can’t make go away. Not without a significant investment of goodwill capital and favours, but always a possibility. But when confronted with significant illness there’s no phone call, no favours, no strings. You are at the complete mercy of something that is bigger than you armed only with the imperfect innovations to fight it. There’s medical logic to handicap your odds – (mine were good, but never certain) and plenty of intangibles to fudge the curve (I had many). Yet even with the imperfect professionals with their imperfect innovations by their side, the care could not be imparted without the profound brutality. The wounds have mostly healed, but for a period it was difficult to look at my delicate places and not think of Hiroshima.
(Ostomy on the left, chemo pump center, pic line right)
Humankind is mostly good and humankind is mostly brilliant but those qualities aren’t actualized without cost. Egalitarianism and affluence in the west, isn’t achieved without bondage in the east. Information technology that has afforded us such closeness and efficiency isn’t achieved without an environmental pillaging. So many of us look to carve out a nice little legacy in this universe – lest we be forgotten – but centuries of legacy building have beget warfare, suffering and moral decay time and time again: Amongst the Mayans, amongst the Romans, the fascists, jihadists and the declining west.
But this isn’t to be feckless and grim, rather, let this be a call-action to submit to what is bigger than us. Not just of the aforementioned brutality (regrettably the beneficiary of the bulk of the real estate here) but also love, awe and beauty. All qualities that have been instrumental in the face of my own personal battle with cancer, a bigger brutality. The relentless love of my friends; the awe of loud laughter from a child; the beauty of the green on the leaves on the branches on the trees. Or the rusted leaves on the decayed trees in autumn.
For such a progressed society we sure sweat the small stuff: IOs 7, Horse_Ebooks and jersey tucking all immediately come to mind. This with such immediate grandness in our periphery.
So here’s the call-to-action: let us be driven but be motivated by our family, friends and the ones we love. Let us leave legacies but looking to carve it in the hearts and minds of those we cherish. And most importantly, let us to submit to our smallness. Understanding that we’re an imperfect, flawed bunch standing in awe of the beauty and brutality that is bigger than us. The world will continue to turn, universes will continue to collide and the leaves on the trees will turn to brown.
Post-script: Dr. Wirtzfeld, Dr. Liu, the radiologists and countless other professionals at CancerCare Manitoba are highly skilled, caring wonderful souls. I am indebted. I also have incredible loved ones. You shall remain nameless but know who you are.