You know how, on those National Geographic nature specials, the speedy stalking animal takes down one of the herd? And the narrator explains how the prey is one of the slower, sicker, or younger members of the group? They claim that the hunter or pack pursues the prey in a way that eventually separates out one or more for their dinner. But it doesn’t always line up, this explanation. Sometimes the victim seems perfectly fine, not noticeably sluggish or weak – just unlucky. That’s how I feel about cancer.
I recently heard somewhere that more and more women who have lived healthy, tobacco free lives, are getting lung cancer. Breast cancer too. I’ve known too many people who have been attacked by cancer. It doesn’t make sense. Yet we still try to find order and meaning in this nonsensical occurrence.
The words “Child” and “Leukemia” should not go together. But then, neither should the titles “Mother, Father, Wife, Husband, Brother, or Sister” be associated with the killer. It is just as ridiculous, but so terribly human, that we think lighter of someone who has smoked getting cancer than someone who hasn’t. Either way, it doesn’t make the losing any less painful and sad.
But I wonder – why does cancer strike in so many ways, attacking such a variety of first targets or organs, or infiltrating the lymph nodes or bone marrow? The question isn’t really “why” so much as “how?” In a world where we can split atoms and synthesize proteins, where science can use nano-particles to create widows that clean themselves (self-cleaning glass), why have our collective knowledge and talents not been prioritized toward health and healing?
A good friend of M’s was very recently diagnosed with cancer and just passed away Saturday. A wife, a mother, and a youth-worker among other things, she was a taken too soon. I guess such statements and questions are cliche in these circumstances. Anyone who has ever lost someone can probably attest that that there is very rarely rhyme or reason, and acceptance is just something that comes in the aftermath of the grieving process.
I liken cancer and its targets to the hunter and the prey, but only for lack of a better idea. I don’t like the word, “victim.” Besides, most of those gone don’t fit the word. In nature, the loss of life usually has greater meaning – it serves a purpose. The ecological food chain is perpetuated and the cycle of life continues. Cancer just leaves a gaping black hole of anything that could have resembled purpose. Wolves, cougars, and other hunters usually operate from the basis of an instinctive code or creed. They don’t kill senselessly. Their kill is for food or protection of their family. Cancer doesn’t operate from any sense of nobility. It fits that of a psychopathic serial killer but with a revolving and random modus operandi.
Regardless, at the end of the day our friends and loved ones are still gone or severely wounded. So perhaps this writing is just an exercise in futility. Why bother making comparisons to ponder what has occurred or what will? I wonder what is the more curious aspect of all of this – the seemingly randomness in how cancer strikes it’s targets or the doomed instinct to find order in its chaotic wake. But we do, you know. Against all odds, we still do find meaning in the senseless. We find honor in the battle.
To those of you dealing with cancer, or other senseless attacks on your life and spirit – your struggle has purpose to the rest of us. When we see our fellow beings take upon themselves a battle they did not choose, when we see them fold these circumstances into their vision of what reality was supposed to look like, when we see them drive on – it gives us even more life. We can marvel at things like a bird in flight, a giant mountain, a work of art – but your struggle, no matter how it begins or ends, is the most inspiring of all.
“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.”― Walt Disney Company, Mulan