Sunday, June 2, 2013

We Don’t Talk About Such Things

When I was a little guy, I said things that were clearly inappropriate. No, really I did! I’m sure you’re thinking that would be so unlikely considering the erudite repartée that we share during our times together here on-line…but it’s true. After all, that’s what little boys do! Once I became a parent, I got to be on the receiving end of the oft ill-timed inappropriate comments and the resulting opprobrium from other parents who were clearly more qualified than I to raise a child (they were on the distribution list for the unabridged instruction manual)! And the questions – oh the questions! – I got to answer every last one of them with every bit of deference and occasional discretion due. While I tried to be matter of fact about answering even the most embarrassing questions, I did get some good laughs out of those Q & A sessions. Even through the innocence, there have typically been questions we’ve sidestepped rather conveniently because they are uncomfortable to answer or perhaps socially awkward – we just don’t know the right way to answer.

When I graduated from Annapolis, I had been schooled in more than just the naval trade. My idealistic young classmates and I were put into the classic leadership laboratory that is active duty which turned workaday situations and opportunity into the coveted ‘soft skills,’ and we as newly-minted naval officers learned how to handle those awkward situations, even if we still didn’t know the actual answers to the question. We learned how to be refined, genteel, and downright tactful…and the secret hopscotch maneuver to sidestep the question when we didn’t know! Granted, that experience comes with age to some extent, but in retrospect I see that tact and diplomacy have a way of deferring a solution rather than simply preserving a tenuous peace. Politicians seem to have figured that one out pretty artfully, but some of us aren’t buying. Another topic for another time!

It wasn’t that long ago that there were many things we sidestepped for a number of reasons.  Some of those reasons had to do with simple ignorance, others were to keep the peace within a family or workplace. Polite society has always dictated to a great degree how we handle certain subjects and for some subjects, they’re simply in that category of “We don’t talk about such things!” That’s the answer to the question: we don’t talk about it. But that doesn’t solve the problem. It just shoves it under the rug like a bunch of rubbish for the next person to find when cleaning up.

But we have to be able to talk about things. Specifically, we need to be able to talk about the tough topics without fear of a negative reaction, without fear of reprisal, and without fear of misunderstanding. Suffice it to say, I’m referring to the tough discussions surrounding cancer.  I’ve been around people who won’t even say the word, “cancer” as if not saying it makes it any less real, any less deadly. Talking about it doesn’t conjure it into existence.  It just calls it for what it is rather than talking around the issue, using euphemisms or slang. I’ve seen some people who whisper the word or just call it the “Big C,” but in calling it out and naming it robs it of its power over us and in a very real way, causes us to face cancer head on and to fight it. The last place I want to see cancer is in my obituary, so I’m going to fight it while I have breath in me and I hope you fight it with every breath in you, even if you’re not directly affected by it.

After all, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition and nobody expects cancer will happen to them, but trust me, cancer happens to anyone and I hope we can find a way to laugh at it and through it by calling it for what it is.

Calling cancer for what it is, is also how research gets funding and patients who can’t or don’t know how to stand up for themselves gain advocates. I dare say that if some stranger walked into your house and threatened to injure a loved one, you wouldn’t turn your head away and ignore the situation.  Any sane person would stand up against the unwelcome intruder and do whatever it took to protect everyone in the household. We shouldn’t view cancer or any serious or chronic illness as anything less.  It is an unwelcome intruder that seeks to kill and terrorize and we need to call it out.

It wasn’t that long ago that when someone got seriously ill, people just didn’t talk about it.  Sure, part of that had to do with the medical technology of the time and we sent people with complicated chronic conditions that had to do with mental health or tuberculosis to special facilities away from the rest of polite society.  And that’s really troubling that so many people were essentially put away because we just didn’t know what to do. What’s more troubling in my eyes is that doctors intentionally withheld information from families about patients that were terminally ill. Quite often, the thought process had to do with the doctor thinking that it would just upset the family.

We all die, but knowing it’s coming so that arrangements can be made to square away finances, legal matters, and other details. And aside from personal loose ends and good-byes, palliative care for the inevitable passing is a crucial element.  We can’t just ignore that because we don’t feel comfortable in making those decisions or talking about it. Going through those things is, in a very real way, one of the kindest things one can do for survivors. Doctors owe it to put the facts before the family and the patient and let people make informed, intelligent decisions. And as for those of us who aren’t going anywhere any time soon, we need to know what we can do to fight our battles to win.
Yeah, I have cancer. Don’t feel sorry for me. Fight for me, fight with me, laugh with me.


Today's music is from Owl City - Shooting Star

Close your tired eyes
Relax and then
Count from one to ten  and open them
All these heavy thoughts will try to weigh you down
But not this time
Way up in the air
You're finally free
And you can stay up there
Right next to me
All this gravity will try to pull you down,
But not this time

When the sun goes down and the lights burn out
Then it's time for you to shine
Brighter than a shooting star
So shine no matter where you are
Fill the darkest night with a brilliant light
'Cause its time for you to shine
Brighter than a shooting star
So shine no matter where you are... tonight
Whoa, Whoa, Whoa
Brighter than a shooting star

Shine no matter where you are... tonight

Gaze into my eyes when the fire starts
And fan the flame so hot it melts our hearts
Oh, the pouring rain will try to put it out,
But not this time
Let your colors burn and brightly burst
Into a million sparks that all disperse
And illuminate a world that will try to bring you down, but not this time

When the sun goes down and the lights burn out
Then it's time for you to shine
Brighter than a shooting star
So shine no matter where you are
Fill the darkest night with a brilliant light
'Cause its time for you to shine
Brighter than a shooting star
So shine no matter where you are... tonight
Whoa, Whoa, Whoa
Brighter than a shooting star

Shine no matter where you are... tonight

A thousand heartbeats beat in time
And makes this dark planet come alive
So when the lights flicker out tonight
You gotta shine

When the sun goes down and the lights burn out
Then it's time for you to shine
Brighter than a shooting star
So shine no matter where you are
Fill the darkest night with a brilliant light
'Cause it’s time for you to shine
Brighter than a shooting star
So shine no matter where you are... tonight

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa
Brighter than a shooting star

Shine no matter where you are... tonight