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Lymphoma and Pets
A rubber raft.
I am reading a book titled Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you enjoy reading and have not read this one, I highly recommend you add it to your list, acknowledging that my recommendation does not come with a lot of credibility. It is the true story of a WWII air force bombardier, Louis Zamperini, whose plane was shot down over the Pacific in 1943. Louie and two of his crew mates, Phil and Mac, survived the crash and spent 46 days drifting in a life raft before eventually being rescued. It is an amazing and captivating story of their determination to survive, and their physical, mental and emotional struggles along the way. As I sat in my local oncologist's waiting room last week, waiting to get my Neulasta shot, I read a description of these three soldiers, who were probably at about day 30 of their ordeal, and how they were coping, both individually and collectively. As I read, I was struck by the similarities between their struggles and those of someone faced with a cancer diagnosis, and their subsequent ordeal as they strive to confront and deal with their situation. The book's author is far more talented than I, in her ability to describe what is going on in the bodies and minds of these young men. And what follows is an excerpt from her excellent writings:
Given the dismal record of raft-bound men, Mac's despair was reasonable. What is remarkable is that the two men who shared Mac's plight didn't share his hopelessness. Though Phil was constantly wondering how long this would go on, it had not yet occurred to him that he might die. The same was true for Louie. Though they both knew that they were in an extremely serious situation, they both had the ability to warn fear away from their thoughts, focusing instead on how to survive and reassuring themselves that things would work out.
It remains a mystery why these three young men, veterans of the same training and the same crash, differed so radically in their perceptions of their plight. Maybe the difference was biological: some men may be wired for optimism, others for doubt. As a toddler, Louie had leaped from a train and watched it bear his family away, yet had remained cheerfully unconcerned about his safety, suggesting that he may have been born an optimist. Perhaps the men's histories had given them opposing convictions about their capacity to overcome adversity.
For Phil there was another source of strength, one of which even Louie was unaware. According to his family, in his quiet, private way, Phil was a deeply religious man, carrying his faith instilled in him by his parents. "I had told Phil several times before to always do his best as he knew how to do it," Phil's father once wrote, "and when things get beyond his skill and ability to ask the Lord to step in and help out." Phil never spoke of his faith, but as he sang hymns over the ocean, conjuring up a protective God, perhaps rescue felt closer, despair more distant.
From earliest childhood, Louie had regarded every limitation placed on him as a challenge to his wits, his resourcefulness, and his determination to rebel. The result had been a mutinous youth. As maddening as his exploits had been for his parents and his town, Louie's success in carrying them off had given him the conviction that he could think his way around any boundary. Now, as he was cast into extremity, despair and death became the focus of his defiance. The same attributes that had made him the boy terror of Torrance were keeping him alive in the greatest struggle of his life.
Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil's hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their physical and emotional vigor. Mac's resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil's optimism, and Mac's hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.
Much like Louie and his two comrades, we are all faced at times with uncertain and sometimes perilous journeys. And almost always these journeys involve some members of our family and/or our circle of friends, so our little rubber raft may include several other passengers. Each of us will weather the storms and turmoil in our own unique and individual way. No two of us will respond in quite the same manner. Some will be strong and resilient while others will require more care and support. As I read the above account, I couldn't help but see a parallel to my own unwanted voyage on the sea of lymphoma. Louie and Phil had the attitude and outlook of survivors and I hope to emulate them as my journey continues to unfold.