I’m a Cancer Survivor but I won’t be a Life Survivor.

It seems odd for me to describe myself as a cancer survivor. Oh, I had cancer, alright. In 2002, very early in the year, I was diagnosed serendipitously with kidney cell cancer. I had gone to see my GP about acid reflux so he sent me to to the hospital to have an ultrasound to check it out. The ultrasound tech wasn’t looking for anything in particular is my guess, but she zeroed in on my left kidney and sure enough there was a lesion there that they strongly suspected was kidney cell cancer. The techs didn’t tell me that, of course. They don’t discuss the results of a scan with patients in my experience. My GP was the one to break the news to me. His office called me to tell me the doctor wanted to see me at 5:30 the following day. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight, that was an unusual thing for my GP to do. In any case, he broke it to me and said that the best chance of a full recovery for me was surgery as soon as possible. Then he sent me off to see the urologist who would perform the surgery. They didn’t perform a biopsy they said because of the fear of spreading the cancer which at that point was restricted to my left kidney. Fair enough.

So, after all the preliminary tests were done and I had seen the surgeon and the anesthesiologist my surgery was scheduled for the third week of February. Normally, of course, I would have been teaching at that time, but that wasn’t going to happen so the college arranged for subs on very short notice, one of whom was to die of cancer a few years later. The thing is that there are no obvious symptoms with kidney cell cancer. As far as I know, it doesn’t usually affect kidney function, so my kidneys didn’t show any signs of stress or disease. I felt fine. I did some work around the property. It so happened that we were just in the process of buying a new place in Cumberland, BC when I was diagnosed. There was a lot to do. We had an acre of property with the house and several outbuildings. It was a good thing that I wasn’t particularly debilitated. That was to come later.

Needless to say, a cancer diagnosis is traumatizing for everyone involved. I was concerned for my family as much, if not more, than for myself. Strangely, I was convinced that this cancer wouldn’t kill me so I was pretty upbeat about the whole thing. Why I felt this way I have no idea. It could be I was in denial. We humans are great at denial, even me.

Finally, I had my day in the operating room. I arrived at the hospital with Carolyn early in the morning with hardly anyone around. We said our goodbyes and I was taken to the pre-op area. They didn’t waste any time getting me ready and into the operating room. That I remember. My GP was in attendance and assisting, although I didn’t see him in the operating room at the time. Later, my GP told me that the surgeon had cut me in half laterally on my left thoracic area so that the kidney could be gently lifted out helping to keep the cancer contained. He said it was quite daunting. That’s what happened. Since then I’ve made do with one kidney. One of my former students was a nurse in the OR. We joked around until the anesthetic kicked in. Having a former student in OR isn’t unusual because many of my students were in the nursing program and were taking my sociology courses as electives. It happened again last year when Carolyn went in to have her appendix removed. My former students are everywhere!

I tell you all of this so you get a sense of what I mean when I say I’m a cancer survivor, but I find it hard to describe myself as such. I think of cancer survivors as people who have had to struggle for weeks, months or years on chemo and/or radiation, losing their hair and being in horrible pain the whole time. I have known many people who have succumbed to cancer, but I also know a number of people who have fought it, and fought it valiantly for long periods of time and survived. My cancer recovery was not at all long and drawn out. The surgery put an end to it. Done. Well, mostly done. My surgery was seventeen years ago and my left thoracic area has been a source of constant pain since then, aggravated often by the slightest movement. The pain in my side never lets me forget about the cancer that almost claimed my life. It gets pretty tiresome at times and saps my energy, but I carry on because what else is there to do? No, suicide is not an option.

So, I guess I’m a kind of cancer survivor, but I won’t be a life survivor. No one has ever been, nor will anyone ever be a life survivor. Nothing can ‘cure’ us of death. My surgery has allowed me to live longer and that’s fine, but I’m still in line for dying. And that’s fine. I don’t have any illusions about life and death. Life demands death. Life cannot happen without death. Denying that gets us nowhere. So, every day is one more day to enjoy and struggle over. When it’s done it will be done. That’s it. I know that some of you might think it odd that I say it, but if I had died on 2002, that would have been fine too. Carolyn and my family would have been sad and would have mourned my loss, but they would have gotten on with their lives. That’s what we do when people close to us die, we get on with our lives until our turn comes.

Beauty in Death

Alder leaves – Skeletonized by alder flea beetles

The photograph above is of skeletonized alder leaves caused by alder leaf beetle larvae. The adults chew holes in the leaves while the larvae leave the ‘skeleton’ of the leaf intact but strip it of the ‘meat’ of the leaf.

We have several alders on our property and they all look terrible with leaves dropping or dead but still on the tree. From what we’ve read on the internet the trees generally survive an alder flea beetle infestation, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Of course alders lose their leaves in the fall, but ordinarily, the leaves drop off in a heavy wind and are generally intact yet brown. The skeletonization of alder leaves is the product of the little black alder leaf beetle larvae. The effects of the two processes are entirely different and are obvious upon inspection.

But enough technical stuff. The point of this post is that I find these skeletonized alder leaves quite beautiful. I love the intricacy of the connections of the veins. I love their strength. I haven’t used these particular leaves as a drawing subject, but I have drawn skeletonized leaves.

I can’t remember just when I drew these skeletonized leaves, which are not alders, but it was a few years ago certainly.

It’s difficult to see death in these leaves because we hardly see life in trees at the best of times. Forest companies don’t deal in trees, don’t you know, they deal in ‘fibre.’ When we see a load of logs on a logging truck going down the highway we don’t think of death (if we think of anything at all) related to the truck and its load. I have no real evidence to write this, but I do understand the culture and the language that denies death and this has that culture and language all over it.

That said, there is death in these leaves. They are dead or at least fully within the process of disintegrating and becoming compost for future plant growth. Their ‘meat’ is gone and all that remains is their ‘skeletons’. I find beauty in skeletons. I’m not sure why. We have lots of bones around here, bits and pieces from various deceased animals including a mouse, a tiny bird, raccoons and deer. Skeletons, for some reason, at least clean and bleached ones, have a simplicity and elegance that is always hidden in life. They require death to release them from their ‘meaty’ cover, to bring them to our attention, and to give them life. Maybe that’s why I find them so attractive.

Do you have a university degree? Did your parents?

Did you know? Children in lower income families (22.6%) are less likely to obtain a university degree than those in higher income families (59.3%). By responsibly using new data sources, we provide Canadians with greater insights.

From: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190702/dq190702e-eng.htm?CMP=mstatcan

Statistics Canada puts out a report every day called The Daily. Lately, it’s added a new feature to The Daily called Did you know? I quite like this new feature.

The observation about the relationship between education and family income comes to you courtesy of The Daily. It’s a simple statement of fact based on the masses of information on us that Stats Can collects. Of course the devil is in the details as they say. I’d need to dig a bit deeper into the Stats Can website to determine what ‘lower income’ means and also what ‘family’ means. It’s not as simple as it seems because Stats Can has different ways of determining family.

But let’s just leave it at the basic level it’s presented to us by Stats Can and think about why children in lower income families are less likely to obtain a university degree than children from higher income families. Let’s see how this basic fact can be explained by various political groups or parties for their own ends and what ‘greater insights’ Canadians might get from contemplating this fact.

If I subscribe to a Social Darwinian ethic with roots going back to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, I might just argue that the greater numbers of upper income progeny going to university and getting degrees is the natural order of things. They are ”successful” because they are superior to the lower class rabble. They have the personal traits that make them successful, traits that the poorer schmucks down the road lack. Personal initiative is everything. Poor people just don’t have any of it. They are lazy and must be prodded to get them to work or to study.

If I count myself among the ranks of ‘progressives’, I may very well argue that the reason that poor people don’t go to university is that the social odds are stacked against them. They lack the financial resources to attend university. They don’t have the advantage of having attended superior elementary and secondary schools. They don’t have a home life conducive to reading or intellectual work, and their parents are probably people who don’t value a higher education.

Others along the ‘progressive’ spectrum put more emphasis on structural factors that impede access to higher education for low income people. For them, the class system steers individuals along certain pathways. It divides us and ensures we remain divided by selectively supporting certain social programs and not others. Social inequality from this perspective is not about individual differences. It’s about class and other group characteristics.

So, Stats Can can produce numbers like this but the insight it generates is not objective. The insight is filtered through a number of screens depending on the ideological framework deployed to make sense of it. There is virtually no gain to be had in trying to convince a dyed-in-the-wool Social Darwinist that Marx was correct in his analysis of class, and vice versa, of course.

[BTW, putting together another post about the meaning of things. Maybe by Sunday or Monday.]