Tuesday March 28, 2017 Cancer World…The Corridor at Smilow
You know, something I have been meaning to write about was how I feel sometimes when I am walking through Smilow Cancer Hospital, especially on the fourth floor corridor from the Air Rights parking garage to the Smilow elevators. I have talked about the artwork on this corridor previously, but I want to address something else.
You have to walk down this long corridor and of necessity, you pass by different people. You pass by surgeons and various types of doctors and nursing staff (I thought I saw some knowledge floating by), custodial staff, patients, families of patients, caregivers pushing patients in wheelchairs, the whole spectrum.
What I feel like sometimes, is that I have just walked into another world. I have. It is different from the outside world because most of the people you see in this place have been touched by cancer. It is a whole world of cancer related signs and symbols.
Sometimes it just makes my stomach twist around. I see patients that are obviously going through treatment. Some are obvious, some are subtle.
It could be the hair, the gaunt look, the eyes, the walk, the sense of how the person is carrying themselves, or the look of the person being wheeled, or the person doing the wheeling…. sometimes you see a smile, but more often you do not see many happy faces. You see a lot of anguish, and fatigue. And, there are bubbles of hope, too.
I think of the orchestra that is around me. The scales of emotions, up and down. The range of anguish that is floating by, the sea of pharmaceuticals that is swirling in little eddies and whirlpools. There is also the breeze of competency and knowledge in the various practitioners.
Sometimes I hear harmony of some sort, but more often than not I hear a type of discord. A clash of knowledge and treatment rubbing up against human flesh, and the clashing is causing a cloying screech akin to a nail on a blackboard.
Sometimes I just hear a hum of the machine going on and on and on. I see moving through the air a sea of diagnoses, treatment regimens, a panoply of side effects and agony and people dying and also hope and sometimes success and healing and cures and NED’s (no evidence of further disease, ie, remission or cure or hopefully cured).
I also see business, and dollar signs tossed onto peoples clothes, stuck to their heads and shoulders, some collected or grouped at the check-in areas for the various clinics. A mirage of dollars floating this way and that way in a map of creeks, streams, rivers, and finally the sea.
Most of the dollars are leaking out of the patients and into the hospital, and from the hospital to the pharmaceutical companies. That flow is more like a river, like all the trinkling, trickling, tributaries are joining together to form a swift current.
I see an orchestra, a mass of people, an enormous industry, a huge symphony of emotion, and of profit. And I wonder what would happen if so many less people were suffering. What would happen if the treatments were suddenly exponentially more effective?
What then? What would happen to this massive industry that anyone with any type of cancer, is a part of? What if, all of a sudden, there was a magic bullet that blitzkrieged cancer to kingdom come. What would happen to this whole infrastructure devoted to cancer care? I certainly don’t know the answer.
But I have thought about the question…. As I am walking down the corridor, listening to this symphony (or cacophony, which is probably a more accurate term). I am marveling at the intricacies of the many gears in this machine and how they connect and intertwine with each affecting a multitude of others.
Most of the time this sea of people makes me feel sad. I am sad that sooooo many people are affected by cancer. I am sad that this is such a big business.
Yes, I am glad that so many people are being helped and are living longer than they used to. Yes, I wonder about the quality of life for many of these people, but I am moved by the mass of human spirits that will do almost anything to have more time on this earth.
For many, it is quality time. For most, it is this, or death. And for many, it is this,…and death. And, yes, I know we all die one way or another. Cancer is just one of the more despicable ways.
But, whatever it is, when I am walking down the corridor, it is a sea of movement, an ocean of diversity, an awe and anguish filled world that continues to amaze me and haunt me.
So, here is the thing about cancer. You know that question on the profile, the one that asks what do you most dislike about cancer?
Here is my thought for the day. It came to me while watching the movie Pete’s Dragon. I am a sucker for those kind of movies. And, these days, I just discovered, I need to watch them alone. ‘Cause I sob.
What I think cancer tries to do, is rob you of the magic in your life. It tries, and tries and tries. And there is not one person on this earth that can say that they don’t see some kind of magic in their lives.
Think about it. Your damn heart is like an electrical, mechanical pump that continues to beat, how many millions of beats? Anyone really know why it keeps going until that last moment that it stops?
Oh, you can get all technical about how the electrical signals pass from one spot to another and relay an electrical impulse and a rate for rhythm, and a strength of beat, and how ions switch and transfer and cause impulses to travel along axons and nerve pathways and cause muscles to contract, and on and on.
But can anyone really tell you why? Some think it is god. Some say it just is the way it is. I say it is magic. The same magic you believed in when you were a small child (as opposed to a big child, which some of us are). The same magic that is all around us.
Look at the clouds…..look at the colors in the sunrise and sunset. Look at the wind…feel it? Feel it blow through your hair, feel it caress your bald head, feel it whip through your clothes and take your body heat with it.
Look at the trees. Did you ever stop and just marvel at the tree shapes, the way the big branches divide into smaller and smaller and smaller designs? The clouds…ever look at the intense designs? The myriad of intricate brushstrokes strewn across the sky.
How about the way our bodies take in the food we eat, when our bodies are able to convert this chewed up mush into material that our cells can convert into energy….it is like we are able to create our own battery life to carry on cell function and can use this energy to move against gravity, air resistance, lift our bodies, lift our legs to walk and take steps, push and pull objects, get up from a chair, the floor.
What about the way the warm water in the shower transfers heat to your skin, the way the food cooks on the stove, the way the pond freezes from the top down leaving some air in the bottom water for the fish.
How about the way our body breaks apart the water we drink, and the sounds the water makes as it flows in a brook, creating little cascading waterfalls as the water flows downhill.
The sounds of the birds, the colors that we see, the smells of the food, the flowers, the poop when you sit on the toilet…..yes, even the obnoxious smells and the irritating sounds…..all music of a sort.
And I won’t even get started on music, how it can move you, take you places, carry you away, soothe you, smooth you, funk you up, get you moving, get you relaxing, help you sleep, make you cry, make you laugh and sing and shout.
The magic is everywhere. So, what is it that cancer tries to do? I think it tries to rob us of the magic. It wears at you. It slowly erodes little bits of magic and eats away at many of the things that cause you to feel joy. It eats away at all the body functions that are magical and starts to cause them to malfunction.
It is like when the computer HAL in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey started to malfunction and mess with the operating systems of the spaceship. It affects all our basic functions, our skin, our mouth, throat, lungs, blood, digestion, elimination, bowels, organs, eating, breathing, our senses, our taste, our sense of smell, our hunger, all our drives, including our sensual, sexual pleasure. I am leaving out a myriad of areas, but it affects evvvvvvvverything.
It starts to rob us of our magic. We don’t feel so wondrous anymore. How do we grasp, claw, struggle and fight for our lives to cling to a shred of magic? That is, in itself, a remnant of the magic that is still left in us. The will to do whatever we need to do to sustain our life.
We cling to hope….we cling to our treatments to destroy the cancer, to diminish it, to give us more time to live and breathe and take in the miracle of a birth, a birthday, a holiday, a hug from a loved one, a touch, a kiss, a loving word, an understanding ear to listen to us rale, the bird chirping outside our window, the rainbow in the cloud, the sound of a loved one snoring….. all of it.
That’s what cancer tries to do. It tries to take our magic away. When you have no magic left, you are done. You are just existing. I don’t see this as a battle, because in a battle someone wins and someone loses. I want to change my framing so that I see it as each person carrying a torch of light, a torch of warmth, a torch of inspiration, a torch of magic.
You don’t die and lose the battle. You just pass on your torch to someone else. The magic, like matter, can neither be created nor destroyed. Cancer can’t take it from you. It is yours, until you pass it on to someone else. Your light, your magic, doesn’t go out, doesn’t diminish, does not become degraded or humiliated or demeaned in any way.
Cancer tries to kill you by smothering your magic. When you can no longer go on, cancer has not won or defeated you. You have NOT lost a battle.
I think you have won. Your magic lives on in every heart you have touched. When you die, the cancer dies. It does not go on. But your magic does. It goes on in me, and in every soul that has been touched by this despicable disease.