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.