Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
They are the words that conjure a universal fear: you have cancer.
Every year, tens of thousands of people across the globe hear these words from their doctors and their lives are forever changed. After a cancer diagnosis, in the quick blink of an eye, life becomes a minefield of curves and obstacles. Just like that: You’re left to balance a flood of medical appointments and treatment regimens – every action fraught with ideas of mortality and indecision as patients pray to become “survivors” rather than “statistics.”
And no matter what you think you know about cancer, you don’t a thing – not unless you’ve actually faced the fear and the specter of your own mortality. Quite simply, this is one path you have to go down before you can know.
How can I say that? How do I know that? Seven short months ago, a doctor looked me in the eye and told me that I had a tumor “of unknown origins” was growing on the rear wall of my chest.
That cancer news took my breath away. At 46 years old, I felt strong and vital. Even though I’d intimately watched the disease afflict others, I never thought it could touch me. I was invincible. Like all those voices seem to say, cancer is always something that happens to them – not me.
And like everybody else, I was left with the same rush of questions – “where do I go and what’s going to happen to me?” “Should I get a second opinion?” “How do I tell my family?” “Am I going to die?”
Lots of questions, yes, but so very hard hard to know where to go find real answers. All I could do was read and read some more about chest tumors. All I could do was ask the parade of doctors I encountered a thousand and one questions. Simply, all anyone can do – is buckle up for a long ride down an unknown road.
My personal journey ended better than most – after 100 days of biopsies, scans and office consultations, I finally had a successful surgery (with a tumor the size of an adult man’s fist extracted from my anterior chest wall). Although no overt malignancy was detected, I will still require scans for at least the next three years – a fact that tells me that the word “cancer” will be in my daily lexicon for the rest of my life.
But even though the worst of it seems to be over for me, the gravity of the experience has not been forgotten. More than anything, I can’t help but be consumed with the idea of information, driven to lead newly-diagnosed cancer patients toward a better understanding of what’s happening to them.
And that’s why I’m writing this column about what the San Francisco Giants are doing on July 18 in collaboration with Genentech.
The bio-tech engineering firm headquartered in South San Francisco and the Giants are teaming up for their seventh straight “Strike Out Cancer Day” – an event which transcends the baseball diamond and delves to the depths of real life.
In sum, “Strike Out Cancer Day” gives cancer patients and their families a platform on which to stand in order to confront this invisible demon – the idea behind the day to teach people that no one can beat cancer alone. Instead, it takes that venerable “team approach.”
And even though that may sound like a stupid cliché now, those words become a holy proverb once you’re the one facing the wall. Basically, beating cancer takes strength. And the strength to endure is derived from being able to get proper support and concrete information, it’s derived from being able to arrive at treatment decisions through thoughtful knowledge.
For the better part of the last decade, “Strike Out Cancer Day” at AT&T Park has tried to teach patients and their families where to look for information while alleviating some of the isolation that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.
Out at the park, amid 40,000 fans screaming for baseball, sick people see that they are not alone. Instead, they are surrounded by similar people facing similar challenges (while the Giants work with Genetech to bring awareness and dollars to cancer research and to patients overwhelmed by the cruel randomness of disease).
Cancer is a claw and it rips people from their lives without warning. It causes untold suffering and self-doubt and instills a deep sense of fear within the delicate human psyche – it’s a feeling unlike anything else a person will ever have to face.
And therein lies the rub: Treatment for this particular disease has to be about more than medicine, body scans and stark hospital corridors. Instead, it also must encompass support systems and ways to tell the afflicted that they are not alone – that somebody out there somewhere actually gives a damn.
More than anything else, the Giants’ “Strike Out Cancer Day” is meant to circulate this message while enlightening baseball fans across the country. The ultimate lesson? – that no one is immune to this disease and its far-reaching tentacles.
Sooner or later, you will likely be touched.
And just where will you go for answers if the worst happens?
The Giants and Genetech are working now so you and me and everyone else has a place to turn in that dark and desperate hour of need.
When: July 18, 2010 at AT&T Park. Giants Vs. New York Mets. Pre-game “Strike Out Cancer” events begin at 12:30 with game-time at 1:05.
The Program: The home-plate ceremony will feature various taped vignettes as cancer survivors step forward to tell their stories – sacrificing privacy and safe-silence in the name of public awareness.