Saturday, April 27, 2013

Camaraderie

When I raised my right hand and entered the elite club called the US military, the term comrade had a pretty bad rap. The Iron Curtain had a little rust, but Ronald Reagan had yet to tell Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and the majority of my warfare training was geared toward the “evil empire” that was the Soviet Union and its satellites. You won’t see the USSR, Yugoslavia, or East Germany on a map anymore and most students probably don’t even know what it is or was. If you’re a child of the 70s or before, you’ll remember the communist scare and a lot of the terminology.  The term, ‘comrade’ still carries with it a bit of baggage, yet what it really implies is something that I think we all could use…and it sure feels like the right word when I’m trying to communicate my leukemia struggle to someone else.

Mind you, I’ve long since rescinded the pity party invitations, but I’ve been told by a lot of people a number of times that it’s OK to have a bad day. Sure, be positive, but let there be no doubt, cancer is serious and it’s not in any way, shape, or form, fun. But my point isn’t just about finding someone with whom I can kvetch (you were wondering when that word would come out, weren’t you?) After all, we all do it. Think about it.  You go to a party with co-workers and what do you do? You complain about work while your ‘plus 1’ looks on politely but has no clue of what you’re talking about except maybe the names of the people and a situation or two. We all have a need to commiserate and really what I’m trying to do is no different, but in my case, just substitute the word, “survivor” and you’ve got a rough analogy. We all want and truly need that camaraderie.

The thing I’ve struggled with my life though is to not be labeled or defined by any one thing or group of things. And it’s the same in this case. I may be fighting cancer and be called a “survivor,” but that doesn’t define me. I served in the United States Navy and am proud to be a veteran, but that doesn’t define me either. We all have things that we do professionally, spiritually, or casually of course. I’m thrilled to have so many different facets to who I am, but I would shudder to have one of them overshadow the whole of who I am. Thinking of gem stones, the thing that makes them brilliant is how the different surfaces catch and reflect the light. Having only one reflective facet makes a gem no more remarkable than a pane of glass.

I’ve known from the outset of my diagnosis that it would truly be transformative and that I’d be gaining another facet of sorts. We all know change is never easy and it often involves a degree of discomfort if not outright pain. There is the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears and I’ve experienced them first-hand as I’m sure you have when in the middle of things. And that’s the rub, isn’t it: not knowing what’s next, what the outcome is going to be, what the shape of things will look like, where that next facet will be carved. Doctors can give me a general idea, but they don’t know any more than they did at the beginning.  They just know the direction they have to send me to keep me alive. It’s like driving down a road in the fog.  You can only go so fast and the high beam headlights will only blind you, so you move forward and you move at the speed that will keep you on the right path and hopefully, you have a couple of comrades along for the ride who can help out.

I have my final infusion for this round of consolidation chemotherapy shortly and as long as everything continues to go as well as it has, I will be discharged in the morning and I can continue my convalescence at home. My week here at the VA hospital has been one of growth for me even though it hasn’t been easy. The doctors I had come to know over the past month are completing their rotation and moving to their next stop. I’ve made a couple of new friends that will extend outside these four walls. I’ve also found out that the nursing staff is watching out for me more than simply being another patient. That may be a small distinction, but the distance between being cared for rather than just being assigned as part of a duty is huge.

To have people along with you, regardless of how close they are, during this transformation has not just meant a lot, it has kept me going. Sometimes it has translated into an introduction to someone who is a bit closer to the process and other times, it’s just someone who sends a good word. But just as everything adds up when I’m feeling overwhelmed, the good will that comes my way is also cumulative and it has an uncanny way of greeting me when I need it the most, when I’m emotionally fragile, when I’m weary of putting on the brave face. It’s times like these that you all hold my hands in solidarity, in camaraderie.

Today’s music is Sting’s Fragile

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are