Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cancer and Existentialism

This weekend was a strange weekend for me. It has been about a year since what my son callS "Mom's Existential Crisis At the World War I Museum." This past Friday evening started with a multi- network television program targeting the curing of cancer. I started thinking about how cancer, and death, has affected so many people I care about

This past year, cancer has affected more people I know and care about, including clients, friends, and relatives, than any year I remember. Early this year the husband/ client of another client called me to tell me that my dear, brave client had succumbed to breast cancer. Even though it was more than fifteen years before that I had represented the pair of scientists, I still heard from them even though they had left the area. The wife would tell me about her breast cancer research and I admired her determination. Ironically, it was breast cancer that was her doom. I did not expect her to die. I still grieve when I think of her and how well she treated my then eight year old daughter. They fussed over my little girl ( who is now 25) and my daughter basked in their attention. My client was devoted to her research and boundvand determinedvto find inroads into breast cancer's cure. In the end, it was not she who defeated the cancer, but the cancer that smote this brilliant, delicate woman.

My own husband's physician discovered atypical moles on his face and chest, which turned out to be skin cancer, but fortunately not melanoma. His cancer was simply cut away and he is fine, with recurring dermatologist visits and my daughter insistence that he endure another colonoscopy. However, other friends are not so fortunate. I have written about my brave clients, a married couple, who both suffer serious life- threatening cancer. They continue to inspire and awe me with their courage and commitment to each other. I learned one of my colleagues locally recently discovered she has breast cancer and she will be undergoing chemotherapy for six months while her partners who love her cover her cases.

One of my lawyer friends in another city whom I have known for many years recently discovered he, too, has a serious form of cancer. He is undergoing treatment in a well-renown hospital. I sent him an email. I was heartened by his upbeat response and his gratefulness to his
Wife and partner. All of these friends and clients exhibit courage in the face of death
This weekend i watched all episodes so far of the Showtime series "The Big C," about a woman with stage 4 melanoma who cannot face telling her family that she is dying. Couple these shows with the HBO Special Movie on Dr. Kevorkian and end of life issues keep invading my consciousness.

This leads me to my own "existential crisis" at the World War I museum last year. On the walls of this museum are statistics of how many soldiers were killed fighting this war over nationalism. My ancestors fought for the Central powers, since my relatives were, at that time in either Germany or Poland. My grandfather received an Iron Cross that I gave to my son. It's hard to get into the "justice" of the war when my ancestors fought on the losing side. It became clear to me that one purpose of war is to "cull the herds" of humans, since we really have no predators except ourselves.

I stood in the hall of the museum and thought, "What is the purpose of all of this? What is the purpose of life? We all are born and we die. How are we diffent from insects?
Life seemed so meaningless. As you may suspect, I am not particularly religious.

Within the next few weeks, I read some of Eckhart Tolle's book about living in the moment. I ready "The Art of Happiness" by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. These books reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of people and the importance of trying to lead a giving life. However, it was not until I learned of these friends and clients stricken by cancer and saw the good they continued to do for themselves, their families, and for society that I was convinced that life can have meaning, that we can make a difference. I feel sadness when I think these special, courageous people are suffering, but I have learned so much about human dignity and the sanctity of human life.

I only hope that when my times comes, and it could at any time, that I can muster the courage that I have seen in these fine, wonderful people. I thank each and every one of you and pray for the best.