Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Patrick Swayze edition.

I have a great deal of faith in faith; if you believe something strongly enough, it becomes true for you. I would like to believe [...] that there's life after death -- because if there isn't, why are we here? I don't believe that just flesh and bones can contain from the point of view of physics this very real recorded energy inside of us. Whether it's true or not, we need to believe it.
...Said Swayze in his June 2009 interview with Barbara Walters - the first one he ever gave after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He was facing the cancer that kills four out of five people who are diagnosed with the disease within a year. He was skinnier than I have ever seen him on T.V. or in the movies - frail and jaundiced looking. Terrifying. And terrifyingly familiar.

Every time someone notable is diagnosed with the cancer that killed my dad, I can't help compulsively following the story.

Randy Pausch - the college professor who wrote The Last Lecture, becoming a YouTube and Oprah phenomenon before passing away this summer. Whose book my friend has loaned but which I have yet gotten the guts to read.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

There's also this guy on the radio, former journalist Leroy Sievers (had to look him up to remember his name) who I used to listen to talk about cancer in my car in DC and cry on my way to painting class in Alexandria.

And now, Swayze. Star of two of my absolute favorite movies as a kid - Dirty Dancing and Ghost. And of two of J's favorite movies - Point Break and Roadhouse (har har).

There's something cathartic about reliving stories like my dad's over and over again. Feeling the punch in the gut and the subsequent lost of wind to the lungs of hearing another person to have pancreatic cancer. Watching the news and RSS feeds for any news of the person's condition to hear how they're battling with the disease. Grieving all over again when the inevitable news of their death makes the papers.

And for me, casually asking the scientists and grant writers at the institute if they're ever going to do work on pancreatic cancer. There was a grant apparently, but it didn't go through.

I guess that's part of it - telling your story over and over again in the hopes that someday it will all make sense, then seeking out others like you who are going through the same scenario. And watching. And waiting. And wondering if this will be the person who triumphs over the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20 percent, and the five-year rate is four percent. And if Patrick Swayze can't make it, things don't look so good for less visible patients.

What a downer.

Something happened today, though. A group of Clearview Cancer Institute volunteers toured the institute came to tour. During my time with them, I learned that all of the group members are either cancer survivors or caretakers of those with cancer. And they are touring the institute learning what work we're doing here in the laboratory is on it's way to their clinic. This made me feel good - and also interested in looking into volunteering at CCI. More on that as I find out.

In lieu of favors at our wedding, J and I will be making a donation to the American Cancer Society for our loved ones lost, my dad and his grandmother who died of brain cancer a few years ago. A friend
walked for my dad over the summer in a Relay for Life in Ohio and sent photos of his luminaries along the track. Things like these help; and talking, and following the stories of others.

If you ever want to hear about my dad sometime, ask me. I'll gladly tell you all about him. Or tell me about your story. Something about the telling and re-telling helps us process, I think.

I want to have a co-ed Patrick Swayze movie-viewing party to honor the life of another who should be celebrated for his living accomplishments more than the grace with with he faced death.

Yeaaaaah Swayze:

1 comment:

Dustin said...

Good post Mel. I think in some way or another, cancer clouds our own pasts. And Swayze stayed realistic, yet bravely optimistic about his worsening condition. That's how I want to go, and that's how my grandfather went. I miss him and your father, they were both great men.