Monday, January 6, 2014

Cancer and the True Meaning of Life

My brother, my lovely sister-in-law, and their son

It was Thanksgiving, 2012, when my brother was diagnosed with cancer. Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is a particularly hideous form of brain cancer. The tumor actually modifies its own genetic makeup in a sophisticated display of adaptive defense. Too much treatment risks harming healthy tissue. Too little, and the tumor adapts--literally morphing its DNA to become more resilient. Chemicals that threaten to kill the GBM tumor today will not have the same effect on the tumor tomorrow. A length of GBM tumor may be composed of multiple different organisms.

Think about that! GBM is the Ninja Warrior of cancer tumors...

The tumor is fighting hard to survive. As cancers go, GBM is particularly crafty and insidious. It is fighting hard and dirty. My brother, his medical team, his family and friends, and a global network of Prayer Warriors are fighting back--harder and, if not dirtier, at least with full access to all the weapons available within the medical profession. Todd has endured surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and a second surgery at Thanksgiving 2013.

My brother sees special significance in the fact that his two surgeries have occurred at successive Thanksgivings. The reason? One cannot be full of both resentment and gratitude simultaneously. One emotion inevitably pushes out the other. Wow! The impact of that insight strikes me as Profoundly True. Todd has chosen the high road. He is focused on the lessons his battle has taught him. His acceptance of what he cannot change, and his courage in facing what he can--and must--change, is an inspiration to thousands of people.

It is unfair that my brother has GBM, but no one ever said that life would be fair. The fact is, cancer of any type could happen to anyone, at any time. For reasons beyond our control, the life force of a bunch of atoms took the form of a GBM tumor and took hold in my brother's body. Anger and resentment at this travesty of justice would be understandable. But my brother's response has been one of grace and gratitude. While no one wants cancer, having cancer can take us to the cliff's edge and force us to contemplate the ultimate meaning of life.

Paradoxically, my brother reports that since his second surgery, he has never felt more alive, more purpose-filled, or more committed to helping others achieve lives of significance. The battle raging within him has honed his sense of who he is and why he is here on this planet. He lives now to make each day a holy gift.

As for me, I am not as evolved. I don't just want the tumor gone, I want to kill it with my bare hands. I wish my brother's tumor had eyes, so I could stare into them as I squeeze the life out of it and watch it die in my grip. I want to look into cancer's beady Ninja eyeballs and witness the moment when that tumor yields to its demise and leaves my brother for the last time. My resentment and anger are blocking my ability to accept what I cannot control and to express gratitude for the good that has come and that will come from this experience.

In other words, I need to be more like my brother.... 

May we all find the true meaning of life while we have time to put the knowledge to good use! May we all be truly happy and healthy in the year ahead.


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