I was touched by a recent article in The Sun magazine by Tony Hoagland, who wrote about all of the ways that fighting cancer unites people of all backgrounds and ethnicities in a way that nothing else quite can. It is a silver lining to take from a difficult situation.
“I wish there were other ways to cure your racism, America, but I don’t see one,” the article reads. “Installed by history and maintained by privilege, (racism) is too robust, too entrenched to be undone by anything less than disaster. If you are white and doing well in America, a voice whispers to you incessantly, repeating that you deserve to be on top, that to profit is your just reward. And it’s not only white people who need the cancer cure; it’s any person who thinks that someone of another religion, color, or background is somehow not indisputably, equally human.”
The author writes about the “community of cancer” where everyone is, “simultaneously a have and a have-not. In this land no citizens are protected by property, job description, prestige, and pretensions; they are not even protected by their prejudices. Neither money nor education, greed nor ambition, can alter the facts. You are all simply cancer citizens, bargaining for more life. We are not tourists in this place; we live here now.”
Hoagland recounts how he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy at MD Anderson.
“In the Republic of Cancer you might have your prejudices shattered. In the rooms of this great citadel, patients of one color are cared for by people of other colors. In elevators and operating theaters, one accent meets another and — sometimes only after repetition — squeezes through the transom of comprehension. And when the nurse from the Philippines, or the aide from Houston’s Fifth Ward, or the tech named Dev says, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ you are filled with gratitude for their compassion,” Hoagland writes.
The author speaks of a “reset button” in every person that can only be activated by disastrous circumstances but leads to the world reshaping itself with a greater understanding of our fellow human beings.
“In order to change, you must cross this threshold, enter a condition of helplessness, and experience the mysterious intimacy between the sick and their caregivers, between yourself and every person who is equally laid low… Listen to the music of the voices around you. As the machines tick, as the ventilators suck and heave and exhale, as the very ground beneath our feet starts to dissolve, we shall be changed.”
I encourage everyone to read this poignant article and take heart in the message it delivers. In the face of a devastating cancer diagnosis, there is hope, compassion and greater life meaning to be found.
Patient-focused treatment, and an individualized approach to oncology means Dr. Norleena Gullett is not just treating cancer, she's treating the whole person.