Saturday, April 18, 2015

If You've Got Your Health...

I have great admiration for people who can blog every day.  I can't do it.  It's not that I don't have opinions-- if you know anything about me, you know I have opinions about all kinds of things, from politics to religion to pop music to sports.  But I worry about being boring.  Someone left me an anonymous comment several weeks ago, saying my blog offers nothing new and there's no good reason to read it.  Okay fine, you can't please everybody, but I really do want my blog posts to at least be worth your time.  So, I don't try to arbitrarily turn out X number of words every day.  I try to blog only when I've got something I really want to say, usually once a week.  I suppose that sometimes, these posts will indeed bore some of you.  I guess it's unavoidable.  I'm still sort of new as a blogger, and I'm still trying to get the hang of it.

That said, what's on my mind today is not sports or music or politics.  What's on my mind today is health.  I was thinking about my maternal grandmother (of blessed memory).  Her name was Dora and I never met her.  She died of cancer in 1939, about eight years before I was born.  She was only 44 and had been suffering for months with what today is a very treatable kind of cancer; but back then, her options were few, and she didn't get a chance to see her daughter (my mother) get married, nor did she live to see her grandchildren.  I've heard a lot about her from my older relatives who knew her, and from all accounts, she was a loving and saintly person, who endured many hardships (anti-Semitism, the Great Depression, poverty, several serious illnesses), yet she continued to be optimistic in spite of them.  She was an inspiration to my mother; in fact, the D in my first name is for my grandmother (it is customary for Jews of European ancestry to name their children after a relative who has died, so the person's memory lives on in the good deeds the living person does in their memory).

As many of you know, this past December, I was operated on for uterine cancer.  Unlike my grandmother, I had the benefit of early detection, plus I had health insurance and lived near Boston, a city with many outstanding hospitals.  My doctors believe they caught it early enough such that I will make a full recovery.  My story will have a far different ending from my grandmother's (or for that matter, my mother's-- she also died of cancer, although she lived to be 71).  Truth be told, I was not dealt a very good genetic hand:  my grandmother, my mother, and about five of my female aunts and cousins died of cancer.  That scares me, and I have to admit it.  I try to be brave, and I usually succeed, but not always.  Many people who know me think of me as a strong and positive person; I've been praised for my willingness to be open about having cancer, and I've encouraged others who have it.  Being ill is nothing to be ashamed of, and we need to remove the stigma from having this disease.   But there's another side of me that some people don't know:  sometimes, late at night, I wake up and I'm afraid.  I know that's not logical, but it happens sometimes. I don't want to die. I want to be the person in my family who beats cancer.  But as optimistic as my doctors are, cancer is still the great unknown. We've come so far in research, yet there's no predicting how long anyone who has it (or had it) will live.

So, I try to take things a day at a time.  I try to keep busy.  I work a lot.  I write articles.  I do research.  I mentor students.  I send get-well cards to friends who are ill.  And of course, I blog.  Sometimes, all of these things are very cathartic.  Sometimes, they don't help very much at all.  But even when I am feeling scared inside, I still figure that I'm one of the lucky ones.  I have far more options than my grandmother, or my mother (who died in 1987) ever did.  I'm still here, and I hope that will continue for a long time.  Meanwhile, I've become more convinced than ever that the old saying is true:  if you've got your health, you've got everything.  And I am sure some of you know from experience exactly what I mean.          

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