Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

I've not directly known cancer's grip on/in my body...yet. Maybe it will come to me --- chances are probably good; but maybe it won't. Nonetheless, like almost everybody living, it's affected me, it's affecting me. That's how I came to pick up EMBRACE, RELEASE, HEAL. There are some great reviews of it already out there, so I'm not so much intent on recounting what it contains. Reading it is probably worth your while if you have cancer or are dealing directly with someone who does.

My wife, a brave dear soul if ever there was one, presently has fourth-stage peritoneal cancer. She had a severe case of Hodgkin's disease some twenty-six years ago and overcame it, living cancer-free with relatively good health until about a year ago. She loved and appreciated the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers who helped her through those times. Now, there's this new challenge for her...for us.

Recently, my wife wrote that she had finally finished reading ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND for the very first time. Of course, she was familiar with the story from childhood books, the movies, cartoons, etc. But she had put off reading the fantasy for several decades, indicating it had always seemed too "...curiouser and curiouser!" to take on.

After being diagnosed with cancer again, and after undergoing various procedures and treatments, she decided things couldn't be much curiouser and curiouser than they were at that point in life. She indicated, however, that when she finally began reading the book, she had to constantly keep in mind that Lewis Carroll was writing dream-like scenarios. She quoted from the work:

"Alice, childish story take
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where her childhood's dreams are twind
In memory's mystic band
Like Pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in far-off land."

Cancer, which shows up any time in the middle of life, whether you're young or old, can be, I suppose, a lot like young Alice falling unexpectedly into Wonderland. It certainly is curiouser and curiouser, but usually not, I can only surmise, in as fun or entertaining a way as in Lewis's fantasy. It seems more like Horrorland. It certainly can be for someone like me, who is only tangentially affected by it, and seems like it can be for people I have observed closely like my wife.

So, I enjoyed reading the case studies, analyses, and personal life stories in EMBRACE, RELEASE, HEAL. Certainly, firsthand accounts tend to confirm the disorienting nature of falling down the cancer rabbit hole. I liked that Leigh Fortson recounted her own story and retold some of the stories of others, who had mostly positive experiences down the hole. I also liked the alternative approaches to the problem people recounted to cope with the problem of being down the rabbit hole, trying to get along enjoy the experience as much as possible, and trying to get out alive.

The thing I didn't like so much about Fortson's approach was its lack of balance, perhaps, I'd say it's dreamlike quality. There seemed to be throughout her book a sustained attack, although subtle, on the conventional medical establishment. It is fine to tell a tale, to go down the hole into Wonderland --- and I delight in that as much as the next person does. However, at some point you have to face life outside of Wonderland. Sure, there're greed and avarice built into the healthcare system. I acknowledge it. Greed and avarice, I'm afraid, have a foothold in just about everything. But it doesn't, in my experience, predominate within the medical field. There're good, kind, gentle practitioners, caregivers, researchers, and even people who work at and run drug companies. There are also villains, just like there are in Wonderland or in Horrorland. The author seems somewhat to suggest that medical professionals' hands are tied in pursuing viable alternatives. Maybe, to some degree, they are. But that is not always the case. There are viable studies underway.

Not every hole that people go down is wonderful. As I've mentioned, often there is horror and you don't always come out once you go in. The biggest hope is that we can dream.

Overall, I give the book kudos and appreciate the positive, life-affirming approaches.

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