On One Hand

September 14, 2006

Cancer and Abandonment

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 4:25 pm

I know a really cool Christian minister who used to hang out around the CU campus untill she moved to Phoenix a few months ago. Tamara was actually a leader of a Progressive Christian and Unitarian Universalist student group I attend, and I got to know and respect her very well before she left.

My dad had a friend from his work who was recently diagnosed with cancer, and he brought her up often, with concern, which is rare for my dad. He usually doesn’t talk much about heavy issues – he usually keeps emotional topics to himself – but one of the things he mentioned was that his friend Louise knew and talked about the same minister I knew. He asked me to get in touch with Tamara to let her know that a congregant of her old church was sick, because Louise had a lot of respect and admiration for Tamara. My dad said Tamara would know if it’s appropriate to give Louise a call and could at least say a prayer or two if nothing else.

A week ago my dad said his friend Louise had “not more than a couple of months” left. He once talked about her getting better, saying if she ate more or took better care of herself she could pull out of it. Meanwhile the cancer was spreading through her lymph nodes, and eventually, in the teltale stamp of the end, it spread to her lungs. I thought giving Tamara a phone call could be a great way I could connect people and help someone who is in a lot of need, so I put it in the back of my mind as something I should find some time for over the next few weeks.

Sometimes when people are dying and you say they have months to live, they just hang on and hang on, and years later you’re still saying it will be “a couple months.” They’re like a living ghost that seems to linger in the corner of the room, fading slowly with diminishing strength and consciousness.

Not this time. Louise tricked everyone because right until the end she kept going to work, despite the protest of concerned coworkers who urged her to stay at home as she shriviled into a skeletal form, always dragging an oxygen tank behind her.

My dad just told me that his friend Louise died yesterday. On calling Tamara I procrastinated a week, a fucking week, and now I feel like shit because it’s too late to do anything. Death is the hardest transition people go through and I beleive wholeheartedly that neglecting the dying is just about the worst thing a person can do to another. I’ve never met this person and have no idea what she’s like, but while she was sick I was really concerned for her and found myself thinking about her often. She seemed like a really good person. The situation helped me see some good in myself, because I hoped the best for her even though it was of no benefit to me to do so. I question my own motives and mind a lot, and this time I felt like I had no reason to.

I heard in a series of programs about cancer on NPR that having loving family and friends around you when you’re sick is the best way to improve your chances of survival, and if surivival is impossible, the pain and suffering is cut, according to the program, “in half” if you don’t feel lonely. They said it’s because cancer is a disease, not of an organ, but of the whole body – especially the immune system – and feeling abandoned or fearful shocks the body to a point where it can no longer fight the disease. In fact, a doctor on the program said a person diagnosed with cancer who has close friends or support is twice as likely to survive. It seems like everyone I personally know who ever got cancer got it straight out of a divorce or really tough time, and it makes me beleive more than anything that people need each other, and have a moral duty to be there for loved ones more than anything else.

I fucked this one up, but I hope when it’s someone close to me – like a parent, grandparent or friend – I’ll be able to step up and give that person one hundred percent of myself. It’s the least I can do.



  1. im sure tam heard. she’s still in connection with the rest of the world. shes only been cut off from us.

    Comment by volatile_freq — September 15, 2006 @ 9:29 am | Reply

    • I still think I’m gonna call her…

      Comment by ononehand — September 15, 2006 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

      • great entry…i understand. If not completely…a semblence…archaic at best.

        Comment by timberwolves — September 16, 2006 @ 6:13 am

  2. That meant alot to me ..my father has cancer and, while we were never very close, I feel like I’ve been avoiding him even more since he got sick. Today I made a real effort to talk to him for the first time in awhile, alot because I was inspired by what you wrote ..I realize I can’t keep putting it off.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 15, 2006 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

    • Yes!!! That’s awesome! Thanks for sharing that.

      Comment by ononehand — September 16, 2006 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

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