In most cases, we don’t know exactly when and how it happens, but some individuals develop cancer. A sort of cellular revolt takes place, sometimes violently and aggressively, but sometimes quite, passively, and without much resistance. A small population of cells in the body stops playing by the rules, multiplies, and moves around spreading to sites where they do not belong. Growing up, I watched family members and friends fight and ultimately lose their battle with cancer. But this notion of cellular anarchy always intrigued me, to the point of attending medical school, and becoming a physician.
For decades, we have tried to remove this wayward group of cells from patients by cutting them out, and poisoning them with chemicals and radiation. We focus on the cancer disease; try to kill it without significantly hurting the person harboring the disease. We do battle, sometimes with success and sometimes without. But with incredible courage and bravery patients sign up for invasive surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation knowing that either the cancer or the treatment may end their lives.
Training as a neuro-oncology neurosurgeon I am amazed by the spirit of patients with cancer. And here in lies my belief; I believe that Healing is more than health.
Everyday, I learn from patients young and old, like the 7 year old child facing a 3rd operation to remove a life threatening tumor attached to their brainstem, the 53 year old accountant with widely metastatic pancreatic cancer, and the 16 year old with a high grade brain tumor in an inoperable location. They teach me that the trivial matters and annoyances of day-to-day life are just that, trivial matters that aren’t worth getting bent out of shape over. They show me that forgiveness is easier if you know that time is not infinite. They have convinced me that sharing a box of animal crackers over a funny movie is one of the best ways to spend the afternoon. I have seen function born out of dysfunction as families face life and death, making decisions that most of us hope we will never encounter.
I have come to discover that health is simply one’s condition in terms of their ability to perform vital bodily functions, while healing implies a wholeness that is not granted merely by human intervention. Many of my patients, though ravaged with disease, are the most whole individuals I have ever met. Though their health is poor, they have found personal healing, closeness with family, and peace; putting them several steps if not light years ahead of most of us.
I dare not say that cancer could actually improve one’s life. However we could all stand to facing each day as it comes, taking time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and remembering to laugh.
I am a better person, working with and treating those who are fighting cancer. In cancer treatment, we may not always be able to offer a cure, but we should strive to foster a healing environment because some in losing their battle with disease, will gain victory over life, and in this process find peace. This I believe.