Welcome to Humility Beach

You know what I used to hate during chemo? Those perky social worker types who would materialize next to my IV stand and try to cheer me up. Their spiel was excruciatingly predictable. Duration: ten minutes, no more. Content: a helpful hint, a sincere smile, an upbeat exit. The helpful hint was always something like, "Did you know ginger tea can help with nausea?" My answer was always something like, "Did you know not having cancer can prevent nausea altogether?" I never said that of course. I just thought it, every single time. 

I never wanted to be a check mark on anybody's clipboard. If all it takes to fix me is a cup of ginger tea, how boring am I? All those meditation apps, mind-body-spirit workshops, soothing sound tracks—all that stuff—I was like, Deliver me from cheesy consolations!

Well, cancer eventually offers a path to humility. I don't mean humiliation. I mean one day you look up and you're not so eager to judge. Ginger tea doesn't seem so trivial. What's more, cancer doesn't seem so monumental. Humiliation makes the path narrower, but humility opens our way to an endless beach where there's room for all of us and nobody's footprints are forever.

I don't know how that beach sounds for you. But courtesy of this clip from YouTube, here's how it sounded for someone else. Is it cheesy to close your eyes and enjoy these waves, knowing that they're advertising some product called Hawaii Ocean Waves White Noise? I'll let you decide. 

As for me, cancer got me to Humility Beach and, to my surprise, I like it here. I'm not judging winners and losers anymore. I'm amazed at all the living creatures I meet, including myself. Come on by. I'll make us a cup of ginger tea.

My Cancer Quest for Meaning

I would never have presumed to compare my suffering as a cancer patient with that of a prisoner in Auschwitz. It took the thoughtful and compassionate Dr. Arash Asher, director of survivorship and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai, to show me the connecting thread.

I had asked Dr. Asher to help me understand how experts view the challenges of longterm cancer survivorship. He discussed physical and mental issues. "Then," he said, "there's the existential."

Ah. Among the zillions of words I've written about cancer, existential had never come up. It instantly clicked into place as that perfect expressioin that had been on the tip of my tongue the whole time.

"Have you read Man's Search for Meaning?" Dr. Asher asked.

I'm reading it now. Dr. Viktor Frankl's mighty work, rooted in his experience in three Nazi concentration camps, reveals that physical strength alone is no guarantee of survival. In Auschwitz, those most likely to survive were those who had the mental will to find meaning in their lives -- in life itself.

Frankl writes that his own life was saved more than once by his power to imagine himself elsewhere. He describes how, being whipped, cursed, and marched in the freezing wind to a work detail, he escaped into a vision of a loving conversation with his wife. "I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out…; but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved."

Again, I don't presume to compare the circumstances. Yet during chemo I had similar experiences; my imagination came to my rescue. I supposed I ought to be facing reality. Throughout my childhood, I'd gotten in trouble for daydreaming. Yet when the adversary was cancer, I was sure that my dreams were saving my life.

The whole point behind Well Again is that cancer changes nothing less than our existence. Life beyond cancer can never be the same. So we get a chance to make it better.  We deserve to reimagine and rebuild our lives based on happiness, adventure, education—whatever 'Well Again' means for us.



So apparently the cancer's in the fine print

Hey my people, I just came across a mind-blowing story in Time magazine. It goes something like this. Scientists mapped the human genome a dozen years ago, and the 3 billion base pairs that make up our DNA boiled down to just 22,000 genes in different combinations. That accounted for 2% of the genome. The other 98% got labeled junk. This was clearly incorrect. The only existing substance that's 98% junk is Hostess Twinkies.  

Sure enough, science has now ascertained that the 98% of "junk" in DNA contains the mechanisms that tell the other 2% how to behave. I think this is nature's version of the fine print in the iTunes terms and conditions. You just click Accept, because nobody would read through that mess.  The cure for cancer could be hidden in there and you'd never know it.

Oh, wait. That's exactly what's going on in our DNA. Cancer happens when a cell gets ridiculously grandiose instructions, right? "Live forever." "Never stop growing." "Stand out from the crowd." Like a biological Nike ad that wants to kill you.  That bad advice is hiding out in our genetic fine print.  Knowing where is the first step toward achieving cancer treatments that fix our programming instead of bludgeoning every cell we've got.

And that's it. The cure for cancer. We can't quite reach it yet. But for the first time, we can see it.  It's one more reason to stay strong.  Because your future is on the fast track.

Check out this story for yourself: "Don't Trash These Genes," by Alice Park, in the Oct. 22 issue of Time. Here's a snippet to carry with you:


Joycatcher Moment: Reggie Watts rocks your molecules

Hey my people, here's my joycatcher moment for today. Musician-poet Reggie Watts is OFF THE CHAIN at TED Talks. It's not just his mad musical skills: At one point, he gestures to his body and observes in wonder, "You have the power to move this mass of molecules AT WILL." So true, Reggie. Why do we worry there are no miracles out there for us? We're miracles already.

What are your joycatcher moments? We want to know!

Warmest regards, Anne