Friday, October 22, 2010

Conquering Fear - 10/18

Dominique Haller

In response to our show with Rabbi Kushner last Monday, we received an email from listener Karen Ebert who has twice been diagnosed with cancer. In a piece called "Freddie Lives Here", which she published on the blog Caring Bridge, she describes how she came to understand what "living with cancer" really means. If you would like to read more by Karen, visit her personal blog at Caring Bride here.

Freddie Lives Here
Living with cancer, especially the second time around, is a surprisingly mundane affair. It consists largely of dealing with little things. Can we reschedule that lab so that I can make it to my staff meeting? What work clothes in this closet don’t hang on me like a sack? How are we going to get Julia home from yet another after school activity on a chemo day? Did you pick up the prescription? Are bananas on the “to-eat” list for constipation or diarrhea (in general, more attention paid to poop than you’ve seen since potty training)? Who’s locking up if I can’t make that meeting? Do I have time for a nap? Whoah, I have 69 emails to respond to after being out for a week!

I almost forget, till I talk with someone newly diagnosed with cancer, how utterly terrifying it was at first. When the word “cancer” first comes out of a doctor’s mouth, aimed at you, it is as if you have spotted Freddie Krueger, scarred face and knife-blade fingers and all, peering in your patio door. Every test feels like listening to him rattle the door knobs and scratch at your windows. And when the positive results come in, he has broken the glass pane on the front door and is reaching that awful hand in to turn the dead bolt from the inside – and you are not sure whether to run upstairs and hide under the bed, or grab the nearest weapon (a didgeridoo?) and beat at the intruder with all your might. I remember that fear.

But Freddie’s moved in now. We’ve built on an extra bedroom so he has a place to sleep and won’t roam the house keeping us up at night. We step aside for him in the hall on the way to the bathroom. I’ve tried to recruit him to help me write sermons. I haven’t exactly managed to get him in a frilly apron chopping my vegetables, but I’ve domesticated him to some extent. The fear of cancer is just such an everyday occurrence that he doesn’t have the power he once had. If he jumps out when I open the closet door, I’m most likely to say, “Oh hi, can you hand me my black wool coat? Thanks.”

I used to wonder how my mom did it. As her cancer progressed, and life became harder, and the future became grimmer, she never seemed jarred by it. She went about life as normally as she could. Since I was in “write-your-own-obituary” mode and carried that didgeridoo as a side-arm at the time, I couldn’t fathom what she was doing. It was as if she had talked Freddie into coming shopping with her, to carry her packages as she shopped for new clothes for her ever-shrinking body. “Hold this. What do you think? The blue one or the yellow one?” The day before she died was spent getting out Christmas decorations, not wringing her hands. She never seemed afraid.

I get it now. This is what is meant by “living with cancer.” Spending every moment in constant vigilance is not only exhausting, it turns over power to Freddie in a way that handing him a set of house keys never can. If you are forever hunched in a defensive posture, keeping fear at bay, you never get anything else done. But if you invite the fear in, look it in the eye, and tell it, “This is my house. You can come in, but it will be by my rules,” somehow, it disarms Freddie. It is the Jiu-jitsu of cancer. Keep it as Enemy Number One and it rules the roost. Make it a member of the household, and it has to fight for attention alongside the very mundane things that make up most of our days.

By the way, who is going to get groceries this week, and can you make sure to get some more Jell-O and ginger ale?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hispanic Heritage Month 10/14

Carly Yuenger

We've had a lot of fun celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with a set of programs that culminated in today's long view on Latin American history with Ruben Martinez, writer and host of a recent PBS documentary about the birth of mestizo culture in the aftermath of the Columbus's arrival in the "New World."

Here are links to all four programs we've featured during the month which runs from September 15th (marking Mexican Independence) to October 15th. Let us know what you think!

September 16th: Mexico at the Crossroads
September 29th:
The New Bilingual Literature
October 8th: Heritage Foods From the Americas
October 14th: After Columbus