Friday, December 21, 2012

What gives value to life?

I have gone back and forth about posting these thoughts. It is obvious that as a mother, my heart is hurting because of what happened  a week ago Friday. Anybody who knows me, knows my main identity is as a mother, and I believe the death of even one innocent child is tragic, and I can't help but relate to the parents' suffering.  I don't want this post taken the wrong way or appear to be minimizing a terrible massacre, so I've  pondered deeply whether to hit "publish" or not.  But, I decided to go ahead.  This is, after all, a blog about my personal experience with terminal breast cancer and the things I think about as I deal with it. This is one of those things.

In light of Friday's shooting, after my brief expression of sympathy, a comment was left on my blog that said, "breast cancer is nothing compared to the slaughter of innocents..." Since then, I have been thinking about that statement,  as well as the value of my life and those who will die from cancer this year.

I admit, I took that comment personally. Because my blog, where the comment was left, is about my living with terminal breast cancer.  For me, breast cancer is something. Something huge and significant.

It is the disease I will die from and sooner rather than later. Before long, my husband will lose his wife, my children will lose their mother. Because of cancer, my sister will grow old without me to reminisce with, my best friend will lose her closest confidante, my step-daughters will lose a person who loves them, and I will just be a story to my grandchildren.  There will be weddings and holidays and graduations, at which I will be just a fading memory.  Tens of thousands of women and their families this year alone will experience the same sad ending.

I can't agree that breast cancer is nothing in comparison, as the poster said.

At the same time, I recognize that the deaths of those 20 children is horrific and heinous and unforgivable.

Here's the thing:  I can't also help but feel that the deaths of the 40,000 women who will die this year from breast cancer is also horrific.  I think the 20 children who die every day from childhood cancer is horrible.

I can't weigh the value of a human life, as that poster could. All loss of innocent life is horrible.  None of it is "nothing."

Of course, I understand that it is different when children die and in a gruesome way. It is, rightly, far more tragic. As a society, we hold the loss of any child to be the loss of potential, of possibility, of dreams - it's the loss of the illusion of safety, and the loss of a future.  This incident represented a breakdown of society.

In contrast, most of us who are dying of breast cancer are not young and our futures have mostly been written. Most of us have lived unexceptional lives.  We die painfully and slowly; and everybody has time to get used to it.  Our deaths are quiet, and even though it may happen 40 years too soon, it's only a tragedy to those who knew us.  We won't be in the media, and we only represent a failure of medicine,  not of society itself.

In a shooting massacre such as the one last Friday, we relate to the suffering of the families, and the shock of it all. It hits us like a freight train blasting through the fabric of society, and we cry "horror!"  We learn the names of the 27 people involved and we rightly cry.

The 40,000 of us who are massacred by breast cancer each year, one by one, are silent raindrops, unseen and unnoticed, sliding down a hidden window to oblivion.  I wonder, if there was time to learn all of our stories, meet our children, see our end days, would you also cry in frustration at the sheer magnitude of the loss?  If you lined up 40,000 middle-aged woman and shot them, would it mean more?

Or, would it still be nothing, comparatively?

I don't know.

What I do know this this:  whether you are slaughtered by cancer, or slaughtered by a gunman - it's a tragedy. None of those things are "nothing."  People have value, whether they are age 5 or 50.   Human experience is full of catastrophe, both great and small.  And, we are all destined to die. Unfortunately, for many of us, it will be before "our time" and when that happens, people suffer.

We are all collectively mourning, as well as trying to explain the explainable.   Why does a crazy man shoot children in a school?  Why do cells in certain people go ballistic and kill their host?

We don't know.

Comparing tragedies ignores the fact that a death that shouldn't occur can happen to any of us, anywhere, of any age.

I'm sorry for anybody who has to lose somebody too soon. And, that includes my family. But it also includes all parents who have to cope of the loss of a child, as that must be an unbearable grief.

Even if that child dies of cancer.

No, it is not "nothing."












31 comments:

  1. Well written. I applaud your honesty. And it's regretful someone would leave that comment.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I wonder if he or she actually meant what was said, or if it was just a very poor choice of words? Probably will never know.

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  2. how will I ever get past the sorrow? all of it. all around. and losing you too??

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    1. You haven't lost me yet! I have a Christmas present for you - you know me better than anybody, so you know you'll get it - sometime in the spring. :)

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    2. I'm hoping I will get it about 20 years from now!

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  3. More proof that many people don't understand the magnitude of loss from this devastating disease. YOU do matter. YOU are beautiful.

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  4. That poster was out of line. First, let me say that I agree 1000% that the events in sandy hook were unspeakable. That said, i believe the value of life is infinate. That being the case, 2 lives are of no more value than one, both cases are of value without end.
    A friend of mine lost his wife to a drunk driver at 8am. Is that more or less of a loss than a person killed by a mad man? It is the needless, senseless loss in both cases.
    I am a cancer survivor, (at least for now, lol!) I was very blessed in that I had fNHL a very slow growing, and usually very treatable cancer. I was further blessed by getting into a clinical trial and now have a 30% chance that my cancer will not return. Pretty good odds for a cancer that killed my mom 9 months after her dx (same stage as me stage 4 with it in the bone marrow too).
    If it makes a difference to you at all, I think I am better for having read just this one blog entry. Please, please PLEASE keep writing. You thoughts, your out look, your courage, you humor, jump out of the page, and are an inspiration to me, and I am sure many others. I am saddened that you will be only a story to your grandchildren. If it helps at all, through your writing, YOU will be telling part of the story. there is a ceertain quality to a person. A unique un-defined quality that just cannot be communicated effectively by anyone but that person. Through your writing you are communicating that special something that is unique to you, and ONLY you.
    My mind keeps wondering back to that poster. A place setting at the table that was used yesterday, that will not be used today or ever again, is a tragic loss. That manner in which that loss took place, really does not matter. Granted, in a case like cancer, there is time, often too little, to come to terms with the coming loss. You can spend more time with people, etc. A loss such as my friend suffered, when his wife was killed by a drunk driver at 8am on her way to work, that can't be prepared for, so that makes it different, but not less. In both cases, an infinate value has been lost.
    In the last year, I lost 5 friends to NHL, 2 VERY close, and 3 more casual. They were all in my interent support group. I never met them, just emails, posts, and some phone calls. My heart ached for the loss.
    Don't stop yoru blogging. yout blogs will provide strength and encouragement to untold numbers of people for many years to come.
    I hope and pray that you have all the time you want, and more than you need. God Bless you my friend, a friend I never met, but one for whom I have a great deal of respect.
    Tom Stark

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    1. Tom,

      My deepest, most heartfelt sympathies to your friend as he goes through this unimaginable loss. I know you will be there for him during his time of need.

      Yes, I think drunk drivers are evil, just as evil as that boy who shot those kids. That kid was mentally ill and not thinking properly. Anybody can put down the glass or call a cab and yet they don't. They cause so much agony and pain and for what? A glass of amber liquid? I would change the drunk driving laws if I could. It would be Murder, premeditated if a person killed somebody else by drinking and driving.

      I'm glad you are doing well with your cancer and I continue to hope for the same. Go hug your friend.

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  5. Ann, this is so true. Well said!

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  6. You have very eloquently (and elegantly) brought to light what I think is a very important truth: No matter our age, our sex, our race, our religion, or how we leave this good green earth, no one's life matters any more (or any less) than another's. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Thank you for understanding my point. I was afraid that Sandy Hook would bring up so much emotion that people would not get it.

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  7. Aw, Ann, I'm sorry you had to get upset by this ignorant statement (and rightly so; I would get upset too). All senseless loss of life in particular is upsetting, and you cannot compare one tragedy to another. I do love it that you stood up for the tens of thousands of women who die "one by one, (like) silent raindrops, unseen and unnoticed, sliding down a hidden window to oblivion." Profound words indeed, and very very true! Thank you for your wisdom.

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    1. Thank you. I can never forget those women.

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  8. Ann,

    You wrote passionately about a difficult subject. I cried for days for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. And, as a breast cancer survivor, I see the magnitude of loss from cancer. Posting this helps others to see the scale of loss. Child or adult, it is all tragic. All human life has a precious value.

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  9. Beautifully written! You are an exceptional author and I love reading your blog each day. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I could not agree more!

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    1. I'll have to try to post more often then. :)

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  10. I think of the special people in my life that I've lost - some many years ago and I'm amazed at how little my memories of them fade. My memories keep them very much alive in my heart. The passage of time has transformed the pain of loss into peace and gratitude for the relationships I had.

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    1. That is good to know. I am one of those lucky enough to have only lost one person, and it wasn't that long ago. (Yes, I also lost grandparents but they were far away and I only saw them a few times in my life). So, I always assumed memories faded. The thought that my 15 year old might still be able to recall my face and voice when he's 60 makes me feel good. I know I remember very little from my childhood and assumed most people have that experience.

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  11. I cannot comprehend why someone feels the need to put it that way. It is like they have a list of the worthy and suffering - innocent children at the top - ordinary women with breast cancer - where? The idea that devastating loss has to have some kind of pecking order I find utterly repellent. Loss is loss, it is not competitive, not comparative, it is devastating to us all.

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    1. I wondered too. I can only hope it was poorly written rather than the way somebody thinks.

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  12. If there is anything that I've learned this year, it is how precious and irreplaceable we all are. I lost a dear friend in April and I'm still feeling the loss sharply even now. There's only one Ann Silberman, too, and I'm happy and grateful that you're here living and telling us all about it. I hope that you're with us for a long time to come.

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    1. Thank you Anne. I hope the same. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

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  13. Wish I could climb into the poster's head to understand what they meant because the way it came across...On the other hand, your post is gracious and honest. For me, Sandy Hook brought up the billions of children kidnapped on my continent (Africa), raped, used as child soldiers, extreme hunger, slow death, mothers too ill...For me, Sandy Hook reminded me of ALL suffering..And all of it needs to end.Breast cancer for me, is horror. It's a tragedy-whether you die suddenly in a hail of bullets or knowing full well that the pain is going to get worse (for those who I've watched who have ended up this way) it's all a tragedy, Loss of life is tragic.Because we love-the children and the adults.

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  14. Hi Ann,
    I'm glad you decided to go ahead and publish this. I've thought about this too. It reminds me of comments or insinuations sometimes made that there is a "better" time (meaning when you're older) to get cancer, which of course there is not. Regarding the Sandy Hook massacre, I believe it pierced our hearts so sharply partly because first and foremost it's our job as educators/adults to keep children safe and we failed in such a visible way in this case. I shared this quote in my recent post:

    “It’s not that children’s lives are more valuable, it’s that we, as a society and as humans are responsible for keeping them safe. As nobly as those teachers acted on Friday, they couldn’t keep them all safe. Or alive.”

    As an educator and mom, this particular act of violence felt especially evil because of the failure to keep those innocent children safe in a school setting. The gunman was of course responsible, but as a nation, this tragedy has also forced us to do some serious self-examination of our values and responsibilities to protect human life.

    Every life matters. Every life lost matters too. The comment left with you was insensitive and wrong. Thanks for writing a thought-provoking post.

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  15. So glad you published this well-articulated post, written with sensitivity, yet to the point. There are always people who suffer less and more,or it's apples and oranges; to compare is futile. The person who wrote to you engaged in what the psych community calls "discounting." She devalued your experience in light of her own pain, which she feels and not your experience, or the experience of those who love you, or who know the horrors of cancer. It's not a competition and you're allowed to express the very real pain that you and your family go through daily. To do it with humor and grace as you do is commendable.

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  16. I lost my husband to cancer 12 years ago in March 3 months after his diagnosis. Your friend, Valerie is married to my husbands brother. She posted your YouTube and that's how I found your blog.
    I have had many years now to think about grief and what people say to those grieving. I heard things like, " At least you had time to say goodbye." I've come to think of those types of comments as an attempt to minimize another persons pain because people are uncomfortable with it. The truth is, comparing pain is completely useless. I heard from divorced people that it would have been "easier" if he/she had died. Unless they could lose a husband/wife to a terminal illness first, then go back in time and divorce them, they'd never know that. And even if they COULD do that, then it would only be true for THEM. So, its human nature to try and make "sense" of these difficult and painful aspects of life. If however, someone is suffering from grief or emotional pain and it is the "worst" thing they have ever had to deal with, then their pain needs to be acknowledged. My grief or pain does not cancel out someone yours. There is no "winner" in the grief "contest." The pain experienced by those parents in Connecticut is unimaginable. The pain experienced by a family facing terminal cancer is not easier or harder, it just "is." So, to those who "don't know what to say" to people like Ann or the parents in Connecticut, this is what I have learned: the kindest thing that can be done for those going through grief is to let them tell their story. Let their pain, just for that moment, be the most important thing you have ever heard. Just listen. Don't tell your story, or try to say, in effect, "it's not that bad." Platitudes are not good!
    It's a courageous thing you have done Ann-- Facing cancer head-on. My opinion is that your children will benefit from your attitude and someday down the line, have an incredible gift to give someone who is facing what they survived.

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  17. Well said! I would be offended too, if I were in your red-soled Louboutins. All life has value; the only difference is in the degree of tragedy. Thanks for speaking your mind and for sharing your journey.

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