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Two Wonderful Essays

Posted 2/26/2015

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  It feels a little bit lazy when my day's entry is really just sharing something wonderful that I have read. When the "something" is a medically important article, I can at least write an introduction that fleshes it out a bit and maybe adds interest. Today, I just want to share two pieces that I have found incredibly moving. Especially for the second one, you may want a tissue in hand.

  The first is by Laura Becklund who died earlier this month. Titled As I Lay Dying, it slams the popular culture that surrounds breast cancer. There is plenty of social reaction to all kinds of cancer, but breast cancer takes the prize in terms of "popularity and glamour". I hate even writing that, but you know what I mean: everyone pretends that early detection is a promise of cure, that "a little bit of cancer" is not a big deal, and celebrities are generally very open with their own diagnoses and treatment. Breast cancer is too often illustrated by pretty pictures of young women (with hair!) and their adorable children or hand-holding couples on the beach. It is not always like that.

Op-Ed As I lay dying

I am dying, literally, at my home in Hollywood, of metastatic breast cancer, the only kind of breast
cancer that kills. For six years I've known I was going to die. I just didn't know when.
Then, a couple of weeks before Christmas, a new, deadly diagnosis gave me a deadline. No doctor would
promise me I'd make it to 2015.
Promise me, I told my friends and family, that you'll never say that I died after “fighting a courageous
battle with breast cancer.” This tired, trite line dishonors the dead and the dying by suggesting that we, the
victims, are responsible for our deaths or that the fight we were in was ever fair.
Promise me you'll never wear a pink ribbon in my name or drop a dollar into a bucket that goes to breast
cancer “awareness” for “early detection for a cure,” the mantra of fund-raising juggernaut Susan G.
Komen, which has propagated a distorted message about breast cancer and how to “cure” it.
I'm proof that early detection doesn't cure cancer. I had more than 20 mammograms, and none of them
caught my disease. In fact, we now have significant studies showing that routine mammogram screening,
which may result in misdiagnoses, unnecessary treatment and radiation overexposure, can harm more
people than it helps.

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  And the second one by Julienne Gray from The New York Times is one that left me flattened to my chair, speechless and tearful. I want to send it to everyone I know and especially to my daughters. But I know that my daughters would be terribly distressed by it, would wonder if I were trying to tell them something about my own health, so I probably won't do it. And that is a loss for us all.

My Mother Is Not a Bird
By Julienne Grey

I stood watching my mother’s last bellowing breaths. There were three of us holding her — me, my husband and
my father — in the room we’d designed just for her. She was propped up in a rented hospital bed, lying on brown cotton sheets with the highest thread count I could find. My mother had been gasping like this for two days — a raspy, gurgling sound that I struggle to describe accurately with metaphors: a choking fish, a crackling microphone, a dying deer. But they all sidestep the truth. That was the sound of my 60-year-old mother dying of cancer.
So much of the conversation about death is euphemism. People use words like “passing.” And in the fog of loss
they leap for answers, claiming any number of things are their loved ones returning. They point at birds and
butterflies and say, “That’s Mom.” They hear a crash in their basement and think, “There she is again.”
I don’t think of my mom as a thump in the basement.
Since her death two years ago, my dad has said that the sun feels like my mother’s kiss. This seems like an ironic end for the woman who was the world’s most fervent believer in sunscreen. Still I find myself looking up at the sun, asking, “Are you my mother?” like the bird in the children’s book.

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