Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Talking about it

Late last week, I read a short newspaper piece about author Judy Blume’s recent bout with breast cancer and the current status of her recovery.
Meanwhile, a friend whom I drove weekly last summer to radiation appointments in Boston wrote to say she was leaving her current job – not for health reasons, she emphasized, but because a better job opportunity had come along.

On my run this morning, I saw my neighbor, who lost his wife just a little less than a month ago to cancer, driving his 12-year-old daughter to her new school.

And earlier today as I was preparing to interview a local sculptor for a story about a current exhibit of her work, I remembered that a year ago I had talked to her about a different show she was in, and she mentioned that she was undergoing chemotherapy.

“How are you these days?” I asked at the beginning of today’s interview.

“I’m doing great!” she answered. “I don’t know if you remember, but a year ago I was undergoing cancer treatment. The treatment is behind me and I’m in great health now!”

That fact had nothing to do with the exhibit I was writing about, but an hour later I sent her an e-mail. “Is it okay if I mention that you were treated for breast cancer a year ago?” I wrote. “Some people in the arts community will know you were undergoing treatment and will be happy to hear that you’re doing so much better.”

She wrote back right away and said that it was fine to mention, and I was grateful for that. It somehow seemed important to include the detail of the sculptor’s recovery in my story. The article is not about cancer or recovery; it’s about an upcoming exhibit. But most of the people I know who have experienced cancer treatment want it discussed more, not less. Unhappily, it’s quickly becoming a mainstream factor in most of our lives.

“I’m just relieved that the day is gone when it was inappropriate to talk about breast cancer,” the sculptor wrote to me.

Or any kind of cancer, really. From my uneducated perspective, there’s such a wide spectrum right now. I know people who have made full recoveries and are cancer-free. People who are okay for now but expect a recurrence eventually. People still undergoing treatment. And people like my recently deceased neighbor who knew all along that they wouldn’t survive long.

It’s easy to feel helpless. But telling people’s stories is one thing I can do, and that’s why I included it in the sculptor’s story. “We need to talk about it more,” she said. If other recovering patients feel the way she does, we absolutely should. It may be just about all we can do, and it may not seem like much. But it may matter anyway.

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