A thoughtful moment, with a call to action

Yesterday would have been my friend Michelle’s 45th birthday, if cancer hadn’t taken her when she was 38.

Yesterday, a friend had a memorial service across the country for her mom who died of cancer earlier this year.

They were both from the same state which made their coinciding date stick out to me more than perhaps it otherwise might have.

At least two Facebook friends have lost parents to cancer in the last couple of weeks.

A friend is missing her husband, with whom she didn’t get to celebrate their fifth anniversary. His 37th birthday would have been two days ago, if cancer hadn’t taken him three years ago.

I see comments on threads of survivors saying they survived because God wasn’t done with them yet, and I struggle to see how that is anything better than a slap in the face to the survivors of those we’ve lost. I guess God was done with them?

Regardless, I don’t think cheating death gives anyone an obligation larger than everyone and anyone’s obligation to make a positive contribution. We all have the obligation to leave things a little better than we found them. I don’t do good things because I got a new lease on life, I do them because they’re the right thing to do. And when I fail to do good things, it’s not my sudden realization that modern medicine saved my life that causes a course correction, it’s learning what and how I did wrong. To the extent possible, I live by the mantra offered to all of us by Maya Angelou: when you know better, do better.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had survivor’s guilt. Reflecting on all those who cancer stole doesn’t infuse that into me. Just like the tumors seemed somewhat random (I’m sure nature knows but science sure doesn’t yet), the cures working were random as well. Because we’re still guessing. Sometimes guessing smarter, but still guessing.

I always come back to the same few points when I become contemplative about cancer and about life. Take whichever one suits you. More than one, if more than one resonates.

Prevention is better than early detection, and we know a fair amount about prevention. Healthy diet, regular exercise, not sitting extended periods of time regularly (sitting is the new smoking), not smoking, ample sleep, controlled stress. Easier said than done … but chemo isn’t easy, either.

Do good. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Delight people. I love to send cards to people for no reason. A full half of them have never been acknowledged, but the ones that have been were deeply appreciated. (The others might have been deeply appreciated as well. Unexpressed gratitude doesn’t mean no gratitude.) Give compliments. Express gratitude. Offer help. Especially if you’re in a funk. So many of us are in a COVID funk right now. Give joy to other people. It will help you and them. Win-win.

When you know better, do better. We have a deep, thirsty need for more of this right now. Instead of defending yourself (or your ancestors), acknowledge mistakes and do better. Better doesn’t mean perfect. Better now probably still means that later, you’re going to know/do better than you’re doing. That’s how we grow. If you’re the same as you were five years ago, I’d argue that you’re doing it wrong.

Even though I already endeavor to do these things, I’m not perfect at any of them and can easily take my own advice.

If you would love a piece of real mail, give me a mailing address. I’ll send you a homemade, hand-written card some time soon. (How soon? Depends on how many I need to write.)

Which one are you taking with you today?

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