Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#287: We Are The Lucky Ones

I ran today. It was great. I did intervals, running for a minute, then walking for 90 seconds. That pattern repeats for 20 minutes. I got just over a mile in that time. I may have looked like I was crawling, but I felt like I was flying. While I was panting around the track, I thought of a quote from a book that has helped me so much this year:

You don't know it yet, but we're the lucky ones." my fellow cancer patient had written. I will always carry the lesson of cancer with me, and feel that I'm a member of the cancer community. I believe I have an obligation to make something better out of my life than before, and to help my fellow human beings who are dealing with the disease. It's a community of shared experience. Anyone who has heard the words, "You have cancer," and thought, "Oh, my God, I'm going to die," is a member of it. If you've ever belonged, you never leave. - Lance Armstrong, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life
I've been realizing lately just how lucky I am. And just how big a community I'm a part of.

Elizabeth Edwards
Cancer Fighter
We, who have battled cancer are lucky because we have had the chance to look Death in his eye, and then spit in it. We have a chance to choose not to let our lives be taken from us. I just found out that Elizabeth Edwards died today.
On Dec. 6, 2010, she said in a Facebook posting: "I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces, my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that," she added.
I saw an article yesterday about how she had discontinued treatment and was losing her battle with cancer. You can tell that the writer didn't know anything about this disease. Elizabeth fought cancer for years and chose the time when she would stop fighting. She took the reins. She made the choice, before death could snatch it from her. She is no loser. Her will and grace make her a victor, not a victim. And her courage makes her a hero. I am lucky to share my membership in the cancer community with such a woman.

We who  have known cancer are lucky because we know what it means to weigh every detail of life. We have discovered the treasures that surround us. The tender touch. The voice of the birds in our yard. The taste of pizza. The tears of a loved one. I once joked that I felt as if I had been blessed with the opportunity to attend my own funeral. People would come to me full of joyful memories of the best parts of my life. They took the trouble to celebrate the things we had shared and done together. They loved me, each in their own way. How lucky I am to have known how much people care.

We are lucky because cancer gives us a chance, as Armstrong says, to make something better of our lives. I was talking with someone today about going back to work. I want to do it, but I know I'm not strong enough yet. It's frustrating. He challenged me to think of this time as a chance to recover. I have a chance to reevaluate the way I live my life, to choose to spend my healthy hours on the things that really matter to me. To play. To write. To love my wife. When I am well, I will go back to work and do other things, but for now, I have a chance not only to make my body better, but to make myself better as well. That's not an opportunity a lot of people get. I'm one of the lucky ones.

Tonight was the Christmas party for the head and neck cancer survivor support group at Markey. We sat around tables and laughed. We ate. We listened. We cared about one another. Some of us are still in treatment. Some have been cancer free for years. Some volunteer to help other patients to get through the hard times. Some of us are still in the middle of those times. But all of us are lucky. We all have heard the death sentence, and we are all alive today. We have a chance. We have a choice.

God go with you, Elizabeth, my sister. You had hard choices, and the courage to make them. May light perpetual shine upon you.

And today, after spending much of the year afraid I wouldn't live to see another Christmas, I ran a whole mile. How lucky can you get?



  1. Another excellent blog, Robert!

    yam the lucky one, sweet potato, to have the privilege of reading your posts. Thanks for sharing The Light.

  2. Thanks, Bob. I always enjoy your posts.

  3. The rector of my church in Connecticut once told me a story that has endured in my memory to this day. I strive to *remember* it every day.

    When he was at seminary, in one of the classes they take on counseling, he was presented with an unusual question. The instructor walked into class, looked around the room and asked, "Who here has a fatal disease?" None of the shocked class raised their hands. Then the instructor put his hand up, to the surprise of the class. After a moments pause he said, "We all do. It's called Life."

    It's a more shocking version of the "live each day to the fullest..." line, but in its shock value, it becomes memorable.

    We are blessed to still have you with us. And I am blessed to read your insights into life.

    May the peace of the Lord be always with you.


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