Saluting A Comrade

In just a few days we’ll be back into the thick of our work.  We have client work that fills the next two weeks.  In some ways this is a good thing.  For CrisMarie it will give her something to focus on as she continues to integrate the information that her brother is gone.  For me it’ s a way to quit thinking so much about cancer.

Tom in many ways was more of a ‘brother in arms’ to me than a brother-in-law.  I never fought in a war, but over the years I have worked with many folks who did and they often spoke of the unique relationship they had with anyone else who served.  For me, there is something similar with the folks who cross my path while dealing with cancer.  It goes way back to my own fight and the people who were in the oncology department at the same time I was.  Really, the first comrade I remember was the other woman who was in the Life, Death & Transitions workshop with me along with 90 other folks who were health-care providers for cancer patients.  The workshop was run by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who was an expert in the field on death & dying.  I went because I was told I was dying and really had no clue how to do that at 24 and thought the workshop might help.  The other woman was fighting breast cancer and  had been for a while, much like a long term, multiple-tour veteran.  She  had a very strict routine and belief system.  I don’t think she liked me very much because I was not really ‘strong’.  I wasn’t doing everything by the book.  Of course, I did not know there was a book, but she had a very clear intent and was not going to give the cancer one ounce of  negative energy.  No tears, no anger.  I was a bit more undisciplined, and I sort wished she would cry because I could feel the pain she carried under the surface.  Still, I respected her choice – how she fought.

There have been many more folks since then.  I have sat and talked, cried, screamed and raged with many comrades.  I still am a bit undisciplined in my approach to cancer.  I am not one to believe it’s all about being positive or about fighting the good fight.  I think the cancer fight is quite unique.  There is a bond we share, but there isn’t a common play book that wins the war.

Even after twenty years, as I sat with Tom and he looked to me for some sort of answers, I knew I had none.  There is no right way to deal with cancer.  Just like there isn’t a right way to deal with living through a war.  It’s a bloody fight and many people die.

There are lots of lessons learned from studying veterans.  Though each war seems different, there are the common links.  I think it is like that with cancer.  There are different types of cancer, fast growing cell types, slow growing, very invasive and more contained types.  There are many ways of fighting a war – on the ground, in the air, on the water or even gorilla style.  Same with cancer – there’s chemo, radiation, surgery, transplants and also the alternative style which may be more like gorilla style – not as organized or as obvious.  There’s a mindset that is required to fight cancer.  People are uncomfortable talking about cancer – particularly about the obvious closeness of death.  Much like wars – we don’t like to talk about the ugly reality of a war zone.

But really, for me, one of the hardest parts is when a comrade dies.  My heart aches.  I feel survivor quilt. I question my recovery and I rage against the crazy cancer process.

My war was many, many years ago and yet when I am with another cancer comrade I am right back there in the fight.  That’s why I am glad I’ll soon be back at my other job.  I don’t like the pain of reliving the past.  Of course, I will do it all again if I believe it can help one comrade in their fight against cancer.  Much like we all wish for a world without wars, I wish for a world without cancer.  Oddly, I think war and cancer are way too much alike.  Wars are simply men and women fighting each other over different beliefs and stories that are so deeply ingrained and compartmentalized that the the human connection has been lost.  Cancer is just my cells fighting against each other having lost the connecting link – communication has broken down.

Today isn’t about solving the bigger communication issue.  Though that is the very reason I do the work I do.  No, today still about saluting a comrade.  Today is also about crying for all the lives lost to this dirty, rotten war called cancer.  Tomorrow will be the day to move on and get back to work doing my little part to help improve the way people communicate.   May be someday that will make a difference by helping stop a war on any one of the many fronts we keep fighting them.

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