Today a friend with breast cancer is entering the hospital for a mastectomy. This is a cruel development in her life, as it would be in anyone’s, though it is precisely a development. Our bodies change as we grow older — aging, augmenting, strengthening, declining. And illnesses and setbacks are part of the process, too, however unwelcome they might be. Seems we cannot rise without a fall, in our little corporeal empires as in ancient Rome (sorry, Edward Gibbon), no matter how much we might cry out in protest and sorrow.
Which is not to diminish the terrible costs to anyone suffering from a disease like cancer (think Jimmy Carter, think your friends and relatives). As old as we are, we don’t want to exit this life through excision, whether the surgeon’s knife or a switch blade in a dark alley. And how do we learn, in this fraught time and place, to resign ourselves to our fate? We are a youth culture, and will live forever, won’t we? That’s the message of the pop media, anyway.
Technology and medicine have many gifts to bestow, and we are happy beneficiaries, but even these quasi-religious powers can’t bestow miracles or overnight transformations. (See, for example, “Quyen Nguyen demonstrates how a molecular marker can make tumors light up in neon green, showing surgeons exactly where to cut.” Dr. Nguyen explicitly acknowledges that scientists are not gods.)
What we can do as we go along, mere mortals rising and falling, is help each other up. It’s a hike, after all, isn’t it, this via dolorosa et jocundissima? And if one falls, we help her up. Gather her up, in our arms and help her stumble on and straighten up.
So here’s to you, brave friend and fellow sufferer. (Raising a cup of wine red as blood.) We’re with you, don’t you know, all the way?