Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Break From Cancer

Hello blog world. It's been a while since I posted. It seems that the further I go between posts, the harder it is to get over that inertia and post one. So here are some thoughts that have been bubbling up over the last couple months. 

Within a  year or so after I started working at Dana-Farber, a colleague of mine left. She was a cancer survivor who had been there for a long time and, as she said, she needed a break from cancer. I get it now. 

Beyond the challenge of having reduced tolerance for anything less than maximum effort on the part of my colleagues, working at a cancer center means I'm surrounded by cancer news. 

Often sad news. 

Between reading this beautiful blog and the sad but inevitable news of sportscaster Stuart Scott, I've been thinking a lot about mortality. Not mine, necessarily. Just mortality, in general, and how it can envelop us, particularly those of us who work for a cancer center. 

News that a patient we know has died often seeps in to our offices, filling the cracks between meetings and in-box messages, hovering over our department like Eliot's yellow fog and slowly settling heavily on our hearts. 

When I read the blog post that Jesi's mother wrote about Bringing Jesi Home, I'd been following her story and I could feel her family's loss through my screen -- could feel it so much that it hurt. 

And I thought of all of these beautiful patients we hear of --  people we've met through emails and conversations, through interviews and photo shoots, through videos and tv appearances.  Kids like Avalanna and Rayquan and Karina and Jesi, and now Fernando, who I mentioned a year or so ago.  They're  graciously shared their stories for us, with us. And if we're feeling this pain; what grief must their families and friends possess? 

It leaves me feeling utterly, utterly powerless. I truly believe that we're doing great things here, and at many cancer centers. But the foundation for new cancer treatments isn't being built in my office. And in fact, tThe connection between what I do and affecting some change in cancer mortality is beyond tenuous.

But if I'm going to pursue my editorial career at a cancer center, it seems like I have only two choices. Give up and go home; or redouble my efforts and remember that through our work, we can make a difference. 

We can share information and stories, that at least in some small way helps cancer patients or their families. And by talking regularly about these topics, by raising the volume of the cancer conversation, we can bring a little more attention to cancer research and discovery, we can ever-so-slightly help advance the cause.

This is the only rallying cry I can raise when the news hits us hard.  It's one I hope everyone working at any cancer center shares.