I Have Cancer and Haven’t Learned Anything New About Life


Like me, Tom Brokaw has multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood plasma cancer. He wrote about it in the New York Times this weekend, and today Julia Belluz writes about Brokaw:

Brokaw then describes what sounds like another full-time job: making sure thoughts about dying don’t consume what’s left of his life, and that he learns to accept his illness.

“This cancer ordeal is by far the worst, though it has redeeming qualities,” he writes. Cancer has heightened his awareness about the fragility of life, brought him fellowship with other patients, and made him appreciate the “doctors and laboratory technicians who spend their lives in tedious pursuit of a cure.”

….Some patients — notably Oliver Sacks, Christopher Hitchens and Robin Roberts — have gone public with the details of their cancer experience. And we have a lot to learn from them. With insights like theirs on what it means to live with — and most importantly — accept cancer as part of life, maybe some of the shame and dread will go away.

At the admittedly likely risk of sounding glib, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t learned a deep life lesson from having cancer. I haven’t battled it. I’ve just done the stuff my doctor has told me to do. I haven’t become more aware of the fragility of life. I always knew about that. And I’d say it’s not even remotely accurate to say that “some” patients have gone public with the details of their cancer experience. I’d say instead that TV and magazines are literally drenched with celebrities going public with details about their cancer experience. I have cancer, and even I get tired of the virtually endless parade of “brave” movie stars going on Access Hollywood to talk about their struggle.1

Now, I will say a couple of things. Like Brokaw, I have come to appreciate cancer researchers even more. They’re the ones who are truly fighting. And I’d also say that it’s made me appreciate my friends and family more than before, simply because of all the help and support they’ve provided.

It’s also true that everyone reacts to cancer differently. Some people like to talk about it a lot. Some people benefit from a support group. Some people are scared to death. Some people do indeed have life-changing insights. I’m in favor of everyone responding to cancer in whatever way makes them feel better.

Then again, there are those of us who simply have cancer and take our meds and hope for the best. Just like I take my blood pressure meds and hope I don’t get a heart attack. I don’t mean that it’s not a big deal—it is, and I’m not trying to be flip about it—but I wonder how many cancer patients are like me? I’m part of the segment that thinks it’s a bad experience, endures the chemo meds with a grimace, and hopes it’s curable—but otherwise has no real epiphanies or feels the need to talk endlessly about it.2 Are we a majority? More?

1If I have a pet peeve, this is it. There’s nothing brave about going through an unpleasant experience. Nor in talking about it, especially on the cover of People. I’d really like to do away with this word for anyone over the age of ten.

2Actually, I don’t mind talking about it at all. The reason I generally don’t is because it makes other people uncomfortable. Perhaps I’m just more accepting of death than most people? I’m not sure.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.