Ovarian Cancer. The two words have a profound ability to cast a pall over things. Literally. Even a luncheon staged to celebrate life and raise funds for researching prevention or a cure. Even a luncheon that stands as a tribute of a daughter’s love for her mother and a testament to our compulsion, as women, to “Do Something,” especially when confronted by a most out-of-control situation involving people we love.
The symptoms are silent. The disease is deadly. And Hope, while essential, often seems entirely misplaced in light of the odds against survival. My mother lost her best friend to ovarian cancer 30 years ago; and I lost mine last year. I went to this second annual luncheon to raise funds for ovarian cancer research to stand up and be counted for both of them; and I went to stand by another friend diagnosed two years ago. They should have served wine; perhaps it would have helped (though, yes, I know, the sugar in wine feeds those killer cancer cells; we should abstain).
It wasn’t so much that things were grim; it was how determined we all were that they wouldn’t be. But how could it be fun? How could we feel better for weeping with one man whose wife was dead, even though we then got to “celebrate” another woman’s six-year survival and determination to live each day not as if it were her last, but as the first of the rest of her life? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that; I was still fighting nausea as I focused on her short, gray, post-chemo hair that looked just like my friend Jan’s a year ago. I couldn’t imagine how the other survivors at this sold-out event could choke down the chicken on their plates remembering what they’d been through and knowing – seeing in living color, albeit only in photographs – what’s ahead.
Maybe it helps to know there’s $100,000 more available now for research efforts at M D. Anderson in Houston. Ladies, a single course of chemo treatment costs that much! What were we doing?! What are we thinking?! It’s so Old School, so terribly reminiscent of our mothers’ PTA bake sales to run our schools. They actually tried to educate the next generation selling cupcakes. Has nothing changed? Here we are trying to save the next generation with $75 chicken and chocolate mousse. No wonder I left San Antonio feeling so powerless; it wasn’t just that we have no control over the disease and the way it ravages our sisters; it’s knowing how ineffective we’re being, even as we try to respond.
People with cancer fight courageous battles; it says so all the time in their obituaries. And women with ovarian cancer, according to their friends’ tributes, never complain. I wonder if I have some immunity from the disease simply because I am not brave and I know I will bitch all the way to the end. Courage and dignity are good things – don’t get me wrong – but significant, meaningful, no-holds-barred research into the causes and cures of this and all other cancers would be better. It’s not just women, after all. I read my husband’s Class notes last night (which I do as a Sociological Study of people his age who went to schools like his) and they were grimmer than the luncheon: Four classmates dead at 61 from an assortment of cancers which they, too, had fought courageously. No other news.
Let’s drop the courage bit. Let’s fight down-and-dirty. With everything we’ve got. Let’s face up to the contributing environmental factors. To the efficacy of drugs sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to eke out one more week. To our failure to invest the appropriate resources (funding medical research, while tax advantageous, cannot be left to charity; it is in the national interest and needs to be a budget priority). To the gross ignorance about how cancer works. To the fact that our most advanced treatments will, some day (and we can hope and pray it’s soon, but I don’t know) look to future generations the same way using leeches looks to us. We feel out of control because we are. We have not, as a society, or as a nation, taken control of this plague. And that luncheon this week cast such a pall over me, I finally realized it. We need to do so much more. We need to get some priorities realigned. Wars and financial meltdowns are compelling distractions, to be sure. But we’re talking Life and Death.
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