Staying Strong

Monday morning I got up early and prepared myself for I thought would be my last three-day session of chemo treatments for my lymphoma (Using the word “my” in reference to having cancer seemed odd writing it, but I suppose if I take ownership over it – it won’t own me) . Unfortunately I got bumped. My platelet count was too low and my ordeal is now pushed to next week. In the whole scheme of things this is no big deal – but it’s just another one those straws putting pressure on the proverbial camel’s back. It’s not just the all day infusion sessions: It’s the preparation, mentally and physically that’s a big part of it. Now I’ll have do it all again at the end of this week. Hopefully my blood levels are up so I can get on with this.

Later after I got back home, I checked my email and came across an article in my Fast Company feed, “Why Telling John McCain to Beat Cancer Feeds Into a Dangerous GOP Narrative.” All things considered, this piece peaked my interest.

Now for those living under or in a rock and oblivious to current happenings in the world, John McCain was diagnosed with a fast-metastasizing cancer of the brain, Glioblastoma to be specific. The outpouring of support was no surprise. And the tone of the support was really no surprise either considering who John McCain is and his personal history. No one is feeling sorry for him. Just the opposite. People are assuming he will fight this with the same tenacity he did as a POW in Vietnam.

Jean Hannah Edelstein, the author of the Fast Company piece had an odd take on the situation. In this brief, maybe 500 word article, she didn’t really talk about John McCain or cancer that much. Instead Edelstein chose to attack the Republican party and their healthcare policies. She also threw Barak Obama under the bus for good measure.

Now I want to pile on the toxic dumpster fire that is the Republican party as much as anyone. But I don’t really see why John McCain’s cancer is the place and time to do it. This isn’t a partisan issue. Access to treatment maybe – but reaction to it … not at all.  To make it that – is to further feed the fire that has created the toxic political and civic environment we all now inhabit. If anything, McCain, who for the most part is not a polarizing figure, may be one of the rare politicians who could generate a common sense of compassion and human decency. That being said, his vote repeal Obamacare yesterday did little to endear him or his situation to me. One would think he would have acquired a new sense of empathy for those less fortunate financially in situations similar to him. But apparently not.

Regardless, that doesn’t change Edelstein’s reaction to the outpouring of support for McCain – which occurred before the vote. She used the situation as yet another opportunity to further the political divide. Rather than encourage people diagnosed with cancer to fight the disease and build their self-efficacy, she thinks we should show them sympathy. To encourage them to fight the disease implies if they give way to it, they didn’t fight hard enough and the outcome is their fault. I suppose I get where she’s coming from. I’m not against a show of sympathy. While not my preferred reaction – it works for some people. But I have real hard time with the view that one’s own efforts have nothing to do with the outcome when it entails a disease. When does self-responsibility and personal power affecting change come into play in Edelstein’s mind? Does it ever … for anything? Or are we just innocent victims of a predetermined fate – possibly only affected by the efforts of someone in a white lab coat and a fifteen minute visit.

For example she picked a bone with Paul Ryan, who I’m no fan of, and his views of self-responsibility.

Paul Ryan spearheaded the concept of personal responsibility in the context of health care in 2009, when he wrote in his Patient’s Choice Act that a “large percentage of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as many cancers, could be prevented if Americans would stop smoking, start eating better, and start exercising.” Health policy should be built, he argued then (and now) to reward people who look after their health—to disincentivize illness, as if people are eager to pursue bad health.

While Ryan’s Ayn Rand extremism is exactly that, extreme … there are things we can take from it. Should we embrace Ryan’s view of “pulling ones self up by the bootstraps” wholeheartedly – probably not. But should we buy into Edelstein’s succumb to destiny and fate – probably not either.

Her views are affected by the death of her father, a non-smoker, of lung-cancer at age 69 (as the article outlines). For good reason, it’s obvious this has had a major impact on her life, specifically her views on healthcare. Her bio even says she’s writing a book on cancer and genetics. In addition, she’s a writer for the Guardian – which has become a go-to anti-GOP media outlet (no judgement intended, but it’s impossible to ignore its left-leaning direction).

Disclaimer: I used to read the Guardian, but can’t anymore. In my opinion, their political views have infested virtually everything they publish – whether the content should be taken as political or not. I suppose they believe they are doing a service. That may be – but they can do it without me. I believe Edelstein’s article in Fast Company follows along with this philosophy.

She takes the opportunity to rally us for a “healthcare for all” policy of government. While a noble cause (and philosophically I agree with – and I have enormous skin in the game) – its implementation is a completely different story. I’ll leave discussions of a single-payer government-run system for a different day and different couple thousand words. Let me just leave it with anyone who has had experience with American Veterans Choice program wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, friend or foe.

To assume that we turn over everything to the government and expect them to sprinkle fairy dust on every problem we have and make it better, is naive at best and most realistically – pragmatically irresponsible. The government isn’t going to fix healthcare or much anything else – regardless of what party and color clown suit they’re wearing. The governmental apparatus is mired in operational malaise and void of innovative talent. Unfortunately, what our founding fathers created is no match for the complexity of today’s world and the narcissistic political behavior that has manifested in Washington D.C. under the guise of representative democracy.

My journey with cancer over the last two and half years has heightened my obsession with self-efficacy. I have no other option. I have to believe what I do and what I think makes a difference. I’ve never been one to believe in fate – and I sure as hell I’m not going to start now. My way of dealing with this is believing that self-efficacy is my partner in this battle. The stronger it is … the stronger I’ll be and better my prognosis. I’ve even created an engagement platform to help me in my journeyOf course I have my medical treatments which I anticipate will work, but I don’t have any control over that. What I do have control over the is my attitude during this journey (both during treatment and afterwards) – to help ensure I don’t have to go through this for a third time (or more).

I can be positive and take care of myself; and most of all try to lend support to others by being part of the solution to issues in their lives. I believe looking outwards is a big part of internal healing. We are a function of so much more than just ourselves. We are products and parts (today and in the future) of those around us – in our communities. I’ve taken this stance and made it a cornerstone of my Community 3.0 project, right there next to Rhizomes and Front Porches

That is what I can do … and will continue to do going forward.

My very good friend Bob always tells me to stay strong. It shows he cares. But more than that, it shows he thinks enough of me to believe that my strength and self-efficacy will in some way lead me to a positive outcome. This makes me try harder. And that’s a good thing. How Jean Hannah Edelstein can justify taking that away from me is malignant in itself. I go through my own battle, and yes Jean that is what it is (and I wouldn’t doubt your father considered it the same), with the same passion and drive I’ve put forth towards anything else I’ve done in my life. Only in this case, the stakes are higher. Whoever wants to jump on board and give a little push … I’m all in.

Battling cancer is so much more than just the end-game. It’s the journey. It’s the side-affects and the treatment. It’s the physical turmoil. And it’s emotional rollercoaster. It’s Chemo Brain and the struggle keeping concentration. And it’s not enough to take care of and worry about myself – it’s the affect my situation is having on those around me? And if I succumb to it, what effect will that have on those closest to me? Will they never be able to let it go – always looking for an answer, dedicating their lives or worse obsessing over of it until it consumes them too? Or will they turn it around and pull strength from it – much like a vicarious spirit of the Phoenix. Personally I want to lead by example, and as Bob says … Stay Strong!

May this post be a message to those close to me, and those close to others with cancer who are battling, often in ways you have no idea of. We don’t need sympathy. We don’t want you to feel sorry for us. We want to know our battle will transcend us as you take the baton our of strength and self-efficacy and carry it forward to use in your own lives – adding to your own personal emotional and mental toolboxes. Make our battle worth more than just the efforts of us alone. Use it fight to fight your own battles too.

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg.


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