|You can quit smokin', but you're still gonna die.|
Cut out cokin', but you're still gonna die.
Eliminate everything fatty or fried,
And you get real healthy, but you're still gonna die.
-- (the late) Key West songwriter Shel Silverstein
The kind doctor who has performed my needle biopsies compares battling cancer to battling Al Queda. Writer Christopher Hitchens, currently dealing with cancer, says that “battling” is the wrong word. Sitting submissively as deadly chemo toxins are pumped into your veins is not battling; it’s surrendering. Obviously, a positive attitude is necessary to go along with this torture designed to possibly slow down the progress of the cancer. Nobody likes a grumpy chemo patient. But will a positive attitude create some magical protective shield against cancer? Sadly, no.
On the day my oncologist, Dr. V, outlined his plan for treating my cancer he wrapped up his presentation with this: “And then it’s up to the Man Upstairs.”
“I didn’t realize there was another floor on this building,” I said. “How do I get an appointment with this guy?”
A few weeks later Dr.V. again referred to the Man Upstairs and his part in my recovery. I envisioned a Roman emperor putting his thumb up or down before a cheering crowd to forecast my fate: life or death. Gladiator-style.
“I’m a Buddhist,” I said. “I don’t believe in your man upstairs who decides the fate of good people suffering with cancer. If the Man Upstairs had that kind of power he wouldn’t let people get cancer at all. Let’s keep this scientific.”
He has. Ever since that day. And yet he is not without spirituality. Nor, certainly, am I. The Man Upstairs is just too big and personal a subject to toss about in a 15-minute doctor’s appointment.
My sweet friend Karen brought me a tiny vial of holy water, blessed by the Pope. She anointed my bald head and prayed. It felt good. I felt the intention and I felt my body warming to hers, my heart warming to the passion in her heart. I love praying with others. Many people have told me they pray for me. I’m truly thankful. I believe in prayer, but not because I believe in a Man Upstairs sorting through prayers like so many tweets. I believe in the splendor of humanity. It is here and now and not a mysterious plea into the darkness. I say Thank God. But I’m really saying Thank You.
I’ve been told tales of people with terrible cancers who were cured by doing simple things such as drinking aloe juice, or wheatgrass, or their own urine. There are guaranteed curative potions you must travel to Chinatown to buy; an acupuncturist in Miami who sticks his needles directly into the brains of the afflicted, through the pupils of their eyeballs; ornery cancer patients who refused to have chemo or radiation or whatever was recommended by the doctors and lived on for decades, in spite of their cancer diagnosis.
My personal favorite is the theory that the cure for cancer is a well-kept secret. The doctors and the government know this; they keep it a secret because too many people would be without jobs if everybody with cancer was immediately cured. So the conspiracy continues. And we suckers with cancer continue to die, in spite of our expensive and painful struggles to stay alive.
The other day at work someone came by my desk and commented on my great recovery.
“It’s your positive attitude,” she said, nodding her head up and down for emphasis.
“I know lots of dead people, who died of cancer, in spite of their very positive attitudes,” I answered.
“Have you ever noticed how people respond when you tell them that,” my coworker Barb said, grinning. “They can’t get away from you fast enough.”
Key Wester Shel Silverstein penned this song in his house on William Street. In 1999, he died there.