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."