The past several days I happened upon a couple of television programs whose creators offered several commentaries on the cancer, how it’s viewed.   Perhaps more importantly, the extent to which those affected will do to retain life.  One show, ‘Law and Order’ was about a murder, as it always is and solving it, of identifying the perpetrator and their motive for committing the crime.  The second was a bit more on topic, it was a documentary by a younger woman diagnosed as having some malignant tumors.  Since I tuned in about 10 minutes into the show, I never did really learned the type of cancer.  In any event, the entire show was about her story as well as some in her world as well as some she sought out for the film.

The Law and Order show started out with the murder of a woman who worked as a sales representative for a major drug company.  As things turned out, the drug company had what many considered a blockbuster, end stage, cancer therapy.  As the story developed we learned that the drug targeted patients already in hospice, patients who were dying and who presumably gained 30-45 more days of life.  The cost of the drug was $1,000/day and as things turned out, the drug company was suppressing data which demonstrated shorter life extension, often under 1 week.  The drug representative had intended to make public, through the whistle-blower law, the company’s practice of kickbacks to doctors who prescribed the drug to their patients.

The point of discovery, when it was revealed the drug company claims were fallacious and that it was making it lucrative to the prescribing doctors, was during a meeting between the investigating police detectives, their lieutenant, the assistant district attorneys and the medical examiners.  For those familiar with the show, they will know the lieutenant is a breast cancer survivor.  When discussing the drug it was suggested relatives of victims would have motive since they were spending $1,00/day for the drug, a drug which had promised considerably longer life extensions, but which failed miserably.  While most in the room saw the cost disproportionate with the extra week, or possibly month, of life gained, the lieutenant saw each day as valuable.

The documentary was something of the same sort of paradox.  Each of the people diagnosed with cancer had made cancer their primary focus in life.  It seemed that the disease dictated what they did, when and how.  In viewing it, in listening to the commentary, it seemed they became defined by the cancer, they became their disease.  Some saw their treatment choices not as choices, but as necessary things, something of which they had no choice.  The central subject of the show often lamented of wanting her life back, of being released from the grips of the disease.  In her own words, she was cancer and cancer was her.  It was apparent her singular focus became cancer and a fight against the disease.  She altered her diet, her lifestyle and her life, taking every opportunity to fight the disease and, in the process, enduring substantive sacrifices.  She denied herself the simple things from which she previously found joy, foods, drinks, activities.  From my perspective, I felt sorry for her, felt pity because it seemed in many ways she was losing the battle, if one considers cancer a battle, because she seemed to have lost herself.

I thought about these shows, about the desperation many seem to feel when diagnosed with a life threatening disease.  I reflected upon my reaction, my own behaviors in something of a reality check.  As I’ve done on a number of occasions, I asked myself if I am too accepting, if I take this attack to lightly.  I wonder that if in my effort to retain my identity, not as someone with cancer, but as a person, I’m affording the disease an edge, offering it the ability to take my life without measurable resistance.  The person in the documentary saw cancer as a motivator, something offered her as a catalyst to make life changes, perhaps that is the message of cancer.  Perhaps those of us so afflicted are supposed to make life altering decisions, to become something other than who we currently are, to make wholesale changes to all of our dimensions.  It is an interesting question, a question I will ponder a bit and which I offer to those who read these writings.

Happy reading and happy trails.

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Life’s Abstractions