Everything I Need To Know In Life, I Learned From Star Trek

"Um, it's my head, Doc." "Dammit, Lib, I'm a doctor, not a...doctor. Oh, yeah."

According to Robert Fulghum, we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten.  Not me.  No offense to Mr. Fulghum, but I learned most everything I’ll need in life from Star Trek.   Even about cancer.

In the episode A Taste of Armageddon, Captain Kirk and his crew landed on a planet at war.  The two sides had been fighting for so long that they had evolved a more “civilized” approach to the business.  They avoided many of war’s nasty side effects, like disease and destruction of property, by treating it like a computer game.    Whenever one side’s computer missiles penetrated the other’s defenses it showed as a hit.    The programs tallied up the numbers and the casualties trotted off to the anti-matter chamber to be vaporized.  That means to be made dead.

How did Captain Kirk respond to this enlightened approach to war?  He trashed their computers.

He said that war is not supposed to be clean and sanitary.  They had made it too easy.  By hiding the horrors of war, they lost the impetus to make peace.

My sister Libby was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year.  She has been doing chemotherapy for about 7 months now and she’s holding her own.

The process isn’t anything like what I expected it to be, frankly.  I thought chemo was administered intravenously.  She just takes some pills.  She doesn’t even go to the hospital for treatment.  Her doctor calls a prescription in to the local pharmacy and she picks it up, right along with her shampoo and toothpaste.  She takes the pills on her own for 5 nights in a row.  Like popping an aspirin.   One month later she starts all over again.

Lib hasn’t lost any hair.  She isn’t sick all the time.  She hasn’t had to have a port or a PICC line inserted.  She hasn’t even lost a lot of weight, much to her disgust.  She looks much the same as she always did.   She is able to continue working full-time (and then some) at a very demanding job.  She volunteers with several church groups.  And she is a rock for our large family and her friends, some of whom rely on her a lot for help with their problems.

She’s been pretty lucky, hasn’t she?  It looks like she’s been relatively untouched by this whole procedure.   That’s how it looks.

On chemo nights, Lib starts her ritual before bed.  First come the anti-anxiety pills.   The doctor prescribed these because she’s been having trouble swallowing the chemo.  Her throat closes up at the very thought of the poison on the way down.

Next come the anti-nausea pills.  They go down with a chaser of hope that this latest concoction will do the job.  It’s getting tougher to make the contents of her stomach stay put as the months go by, especially on the last 2 nights of the cycle and for a couple of days after that. 

Finally come the chemo pills themselves.   She can usually get the first couple down all right.  They even stay down – for the most part.  Sometimes they come right back up.  Sometimes the sneaky devils wait a few hours and then decide to make a reappearance.

If she doesn’t get all the pills down and keep them down, she’s has to go through this for yet another night.  The doctor cautions that the drugs may not work as well if she doesn’t follow the protocol exactly. 

Lib worries.   We all forget things, as I keep telling her.  But when she can’t bring somebody’s name to mind, or an item on her to-do list escapes her, she wonders; is it the chemo?  Is it being over 40 and having a crazy-busy life?  Is it the tumor claiming more real estate in her brain?

She gets tired more easily.  She worries that she won’t be able to keep up at work.  She doesn’t want to let anyone down.  She feels kind of “fuzzy” some days and wonders: is that just a side effect of the anxiety pills, or is it something more ominous?

I’ve gifted her with lectures that she should tell her boss and co-workers, “I can do my job, but I can’t take on all the extras you keep piling on, at least for now.”  I’ve oh, so helpfully, nagged that she should tell her church group, “I can’t drive 5 hours one way, then back, to go to a meeting.” From the safety of my tumor-free life I’ve pontificated that she should just say to her needy friends, “Take care of your own problems; I need to concentrate on mine.”  But she won’t.

I wish all her hair would fall out. 

I wish her face would be drawn, gaunt and gray.  She should have vivid, purple bruises, a PICC line sticking out of her chest, and all the other trappings of illness you can think of.    

Because I’m with Captain Kirk. 

This is war.  

This is not clean and it is not easy and for everything to appear so normal strikes me as faintly obscene.  Not when she is in the fight of her life.

Maybe if everyone could see the intensity of the battle going on, maybe if it showed up in the mirror, then
  they…would back off and not keep asking her to give more.
  we…would remember to jump in with help and encouragement.
  she…would cut herself a little slack.  Just a little, Lib.

Today is the last day of her latest round of treatment.  At 11 o’clock tonight Lib will, once again, find herself alone in the bathroom with her pill bottles all lined up on the sink.  She’ll face down the woman in the mirror and hit her with a pep talk.  “C’mon.  Just do this thing.  And please God, let it work.”

You’re not alone, Lib.  If you squint really hard you’ll see our entire family, and all those who love you, lined up behind you.  If you listen closely you’ll hear our heartfelt chorus, “Amen!”

And behind us?  Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise stand ready with phasers set to kill.  If everybody doesn’t cut you some slack, they’ll get blasted right out of the galaxy.

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About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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83 Responses to Everything I Need To Know In Life, I Learned From Star Trek

  1. Harper Faulkner says:

    You just won the contest of telling a great story with great meaning. Thank you. You blessed me with your thoughts this morning. HF

    Like

  2. Jackie says:

    Ugh, a heartfelt, well-written post about your sister’s battle with cancer AND a Star Trek reference? You’re killing me.

    This is fab, Peg. Really fab. And praying for your sister. Still.

    Like

  3. bigsheepcommunications says:

    A strong reminder to try to treat everyone with compassion because you just never know what’s going on in their lives. Tell Lib the blogosphere is with her too!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Lisa, that is such a powerful and timely reminder. We DON’T know what the other guy is going through. Must remind myself of that when I’m about to go postal on the driver who cuts me off in traffic.

      Like

  4. Laura says:

    Best wishes to your sister, Peg. I’m sorry we don’t have the medical technology from Star Trek to go along with the wisdom.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Hey, wouldn’t that be great? I always thought Dr. McCoy was a useless waste of space. He didn’t have to do anything, just give somebody a shot from that same, all-purpose pen thingy and no matter what was wrong, they were cured!

      Like

  5. k8edid says:

    I am not supposed to be reading this stuff at work, or sobbing into my keyboard, either. If I am fired I will come up there and ride around with Lib all day and smack those who ask so much of her…because a sister is a wondrous thing to have – a treasure you shouldn’t have to fear losing. I am praying for Lib, for your family, and for a cure.

    My sis leaves today to return to Michigan. I wish I had awakened her before I left for work for a sister hug. Have you any Kleenex?

    Like

  6. John says:

    It is a war. Keep fighting the good fight, Lib!

    Like

  7. joehoover says:

    So well put, all the best to your sister. x

    Like

  8. gojulesgo says:

    I’m really glad you shared this, Peg, and my reaction is similar to Katy’s. Your sister sounds incredible, and I’m wishing her all the best. I’m continually amazed by the strength of others.

    Like

  9. I’ve been thinking about your sister lately and wondering how she was doing. Thanks for the update. Keeping her in my thoughts and prayers. Please tell her not to worry about the “senior moments” of forgetfulness, because that’s what they are – nothing to do with her cancer. Wait until she is in her 60’s (and she will be)! Lordy!! I think my short term attention span is a nano-second.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Ain’t that the truth, Carol! Those “senior moments” are getting too, darn frequent nowadays. Thanks for your prayers and kind thoughts.

      Like

      • Spectra says:

        – if only we could selectively drive our forgetfullness to the areas of our thoughts and memories which store fear and loathing! Then we’d be good to go. I agree with your entirely, your sister should be wrpped in swaddling clothes while others gather round to help her, but these days, women and their superhero ways, many don’t know how to slow down. Stress interferes with the natural healing process. I wish her the best and you also –

        Like

  10. Thanks for this inspirational post. Blessings to your sister and family. I love the Captain Kirk wisdom:)

    Like

  11. Dana says:

    Oh, Peg– this post hits me close to home this morning, and I was NOT expecting that to happen based on the Star Trek references. (You can’t just pop a cancer post on a girl like that! A sister’s gotta PREP!)

    Your sister and your whole family are in my thoughts and prayers. Wishing for a speedy recovery and some understanding on the part of everyone who can’t “see” the cancer.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks, Dana. I try to remind myself that we can’t always see what’s going on when I see someone hop out of a car in a handicapped spot, and they look OK to me.

      In so much of life you gotta laugh or else you’ll never stop crying, right?

      Like

  12. Peg, this is such a powerful post. Have you read The Emperor of All Madadies? It’s a different take on cancer. We really know so little about cancer and what factors mean survival for some people and not for others. As the oncologist of my close friend (stage 4 lung cancer) told her, “Get this: You are a HEALTHY WOMAN who happens to have lung cancer. The first part is the more important.” I would say the same of Lib.

    Like

  13. Lenore Diane says:

    Wow, Peg. You knocked this out of the park! You’ve done a wonderful job telling this story. Gosh.
    And, I echo Lisa’s sentiment. You never know what lies beneath the exterior presented to the world. You, Lib and the entire family are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      You know, Lenore, I need to have that sentiment tatooed on my forehead so I don’t forget – we never know what goes on in someone else’s life.

      Maybe not the forehead, because then I couldn’t see it, except in a mirror, and the message would be backwards, so that would be kind of tough to read and not as inspiring.

      Like

      • Lenore Diane says:

        Of course, if you looked at the mirror through a second mirror, the writing would no longer be backwards. You could do that, you know. Though you are right about the ‘not as inspiring’ part. Then again, it may make you so cranky you forget about why they heck you felt the need to be inspired.

        Like

        • pegoleg says:

          Nothing worth getting is easy, I know, but I have a feeling after I went through all that jazz with the 2 hand mirrors, cranky would be a mild adjective to describe my mood.

          Like

  14. That Praise Dude says:

    You’re absolutely right, Peg, it is hard to grasp Libby’s cancer because most of her life is, well, normal. As a dad to a special needs child, I can honestly say that no one can grasp the many many issues that we deal with on a daily basis: the feeding tube on Faith’s face and in her nose, cleaning up the latest vomit (with accompanying laundry, changing of clothes and bedding and car seat liner), calling this doctor and or that doctor for treatment, wrestling with the insurance companies that yet again submitted the wrong code for treatment (after 3 previous calls to correct), trying not to let my 6 year old son fall through the cracks. Most of this stuff happens in private, as we have to be careful with germs because Faith’s immune system is not strong enough. Since we need a nurse to watch our daughter, we never get a date night (we have had a lunch date 2 or 3 times). I’m not complaining; it’s just the way it is. However, since it happens in private, no one sees the craziness of it all. “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen; nobody knows my sorrow.” No one really gets what Libby is going through but Libby, doubly so because things seem “normal”. Thanks for the reminder to love my sister more concretely.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Oh sweetie, I know. I don’t exactly forget about Faith’s situation, but I must admit it goes to the back of my mind because I’m just not there to truly appreciate what you and AnnMarie go through every day, every day with that little angel. I so wish we lived closer.

      I’m sorry to hear YOU are sick today also, so you’ve got stereo vomitting around your house. Yikes! Hope you are all healthy enough to come to the party this weekend. Love, love, love to you all!

      Like

  15. Off the Wall says:

    Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors. The effects of chemo is one of them. I have taken the chemo pills, and it was awhile ago, but I still have issues from resulting from it. She sounds like a very brave woman, and my thoughts and prayers are with her and your whole family. God Bless.

    Like

  16. Elyse says:

    Peg, I join with Lisa and the whole rest of the gang up here to wish Lib all the best of luck with her recovery. And may she soon be truly well instead of just looking well.

    I’m a big fan of medicines, vile as they are. A cure or a treatment can make all the difference in the world. Good good luck to all of you.

    Like

  17. Your words really shook me to the core, Peg. Powerful and heartfelt. I can’t imagine what she and your entire family is enduring right now. I’ll be thinking of her and sending her healthy recovery vibes.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks Darla. I don’t know if the whole family IS enduring much right now, just Lib. That’s why I wrote this post. It all seems so normal, in a surreal way. I needed to shake MYSELF out of my apathy.

      Like

  18. mahervolous says:

    What a beautiful post. Captain Kirk’s got nothing on you guys. Picard either. Don’t even get me started on Janeway.
    Have you read ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ by Dave Eggers? I think you might connect to it in a big way.
    Good wishes to you and yours.

    Like

  19. Very moving writing here. So sorry that your sister is going through such an awful trial, and you and all who love her are going through it along with her.

    Like

  20. Mary Kay says:

    Dear Peg, QUIT making me cry! Another beautiful post. I think our immediate family has a good grasp of what’s going on in Lib’s world and Bill and AnnMarie’s. We can’t do much but keep the prayers going and let our loved one’s know we are with them in spirit always.The same goes for Mom and Dad. For all our loved ones who might be dealing with issues we know nothing about,I will also keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      YOU quit making ME cry! You’re so right – we can never know what people are going through in their lives, even with those we love the most. Thanks for the reminder, my dear, big sis. Adding good thoughts and prayers for ALL of our loved ones.

      Like

      • Tar-Buns says:

        Great, I survive the first day of new marking period and get home to read THIS, a veritable wellspring of sniffles. Well done as usual. I think of Libby often and call to check up on her. I think of most of my family, all the time, come to think of it.

        I don’t always call when I ought to but I try to send notes and be around. The pros and cons of being from a big family. (mostly pros :))Sure do wish we all lived closer.

        Love and hugs to all my fabulous family, no matter the cross you bear. T-Berry

        Like

  21. Peg, this post brought tears to my eyes. It is my now my favorite post of yours. You did great. Calling attention to this problem in such a unique and powerful way. I was riding along with you at the beginning, thinking, wow — I guess her sister really has it all together. Then you tossed me overboard with your peek into the terror she feels at swallowing the poison pills. With all you shared and the way you did so, I felt like I was caught out at sea, the relentless waves throwing me back and forth. It is hard, to keep your mind on another’s illness. Especially when you can’t “see” what they are going through. My very best thoughts and prayers for your sister, she sounds like a strong and remarkable woman. Just like you.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Aw, thanks so much, Melissa. I was thinking of you the other day, and wondering if your son is going to have surgery this month? I know that YOU know what life is like with health issues on a very fundamental level. I’m sending good thoughts and prayers right back at you.

      Like

  22. One of your Enterprise crew sits here with phasers on standby. My best to you and to your sister.

    Like

  23. Your sister sounds like an absolutely incredible woman…
    phasers have rendered me stunned.
    Wishing Libby only the very best, Peg… strength like that is impossible to hold down for long!
    🙂

    Like

  24. I kind of hate Star Trek, but I hate cancer more, and therefore Star Trek wins. Lib is winning, too. I can understand why you want everyone in the world to give her a break, but I could also understand her wanting her life to be as normal as possible… and that might mean letting it be a little nuts. That’s living. It sounds like everyone involved (including Captain Kirk) is doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. You’re right that the less ugly the battle, the easier it is to forget about the war… but if Lib can fake out the cancer long enough, maybe it will stop fighting for control. Live long and prosper!

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      You have a good point. Not about Star Trek – on that, you’re nuts. But on keeping things normal, that IS a good coping mechanism. Because life does go on and you gotta live it, right?

      Like

  25. Al says:

    The next time someone asks me what my definition of love is. I’ll send them to this post.

    Like

  26. pattisj says:

    Wow, I expected some nonsensical Star-Trek flavored Kool-Aid with your title. Instead, I was treated to the touching story of your sister’s battle, your battle. She must be one very special lady, Peg, to be able to keep giving of herself and come to the aid of others. Give her a big hug for me when you see her. Saying a prayer for all of you.

    Like

  27. You have pretty much created blog perfection here, where I’m laughing and crying at the same time. I’m sharing this post on FB momentarily, in part because I want others to read it, and in part because I want to be remembered to read it often.

    Everything about this is beautiful. And I heartily second your wishes to your sister, and say a prayer of thanks that she is in such loving, laughter-inspiring care. ♥

    Like

  28. This isn’t the type of post I was expecting to see on your blog, but I like it. I’ll keep your sister and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

    Like

    • pegoleg says:

      Every once in a while a non-snarky post sneaks out, despite my best efforts to hold it in. Thanks so much for the good thoughts and prayers – they are all appreciated.

      Like

  29. Deb pointed me in your direction and I think I’m going to stay awhile if that’s okay with you. 🙂

    I think perhaps Libby doesn’t want to take a step back because that might feel a little bit like giving in. I’ll back you completely if you want to tie her down and make some “drive-by” phone calls that might lighten her load for a few hours.

    I’m pleased to meet you. Sending hugs to both of you.

    Like

  30. Incredible juxtaposition – a poignant story with a healthy dose of 1960s sci-fi camp. This was powerful, thanks for sharing!

    Like

  31. There’s a lot of compassion, sorrow, frustration, and plain old anger in this piece–so well written for one lucky sister to have you watching her back (a better hero than Kirk could ever be).

    Like

  32. notquiteold says:

    I agree completely. I’m glad it has been bearable for your sister (and you) but Cancer shouldn’t be hidden and sneaky. This is war.

    Like

  33. Barb says:

    So well stated. Your sister and your family are in my prayers.

    Like

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