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by Max Roytenberg, posted October 6, 2016

Cancer. Now I’ve said it. Just saying it tightens up my gut. It makes me want to swallow. I look around to see if anyone can sense the anger, the blind rage that surges through me. I find myself breathing faster. The fight or flight chemicals prompted by fear are racing through my body. Mostly, I try not to think about it because of the instant effect it always has upon me. I don’t know about others, but I hate it. Just the thought of it makes me angry. I just hate it. 


To me the idea of cancer is like a living presence, dressed up in the image of death, stalking through our lives, the destroyer of health and happiness. It looks this way and that, it looks for those at whom it will swing its lethal scythe. I know it's really like spores in the wind, poisons in the soil, air and water, or genetic predispositions hiding in our DNA, waiting for the merest provocation to flower like a deadly bloom of nightshade. I know it is like an evil charlatan that smilingly, gives way to our defensive measures, only to strike back with deadly force when we have let down our guard. I know it has so many disguises and tricks that we have to learn the new ones every day that we are alive. It takes some of our best minds to keep us relevant in that battle.


I know about all the new promises, new hopes, yet to be realized. We learn something new every day. But, so does cancer, reacting to counter every twist and turn we make. We are not there yet in spite of all the public promises that are made every day. It is not politically correct to say it, but the same promises were being made during the time cancer was a living presence in my home. So I retain the hate that I learned.



When it struck in our home, we reacted with shock. We marshalled our resources and radically changed our life-style. My late spouse gave up her stressful and demanding work. She was simultaneous translation interpreter. She was the manager and creator of her own firm, one that was pre-eminent in Canada, but she delegated her work and ceased professional activity. She underwent a mastectomy, radiation and chemo. We changed our diet toward the completely macro-biotic and a shelf full of recommended natural products. The result! In six months all traces of the disease were eradicated. We declared victory. My spouse became a poster child, a survivor, to rally the spirits of all victims of the disease. After a year we relaxed our guard and returned to our previous way of life.



Four or five years later two cancer cells were discovered during the regular screening that had been maintained. The number of cells quickly multiplied and, after a time, a regular regime of chemotherapy was re-introduced, accompanied by multiple discomforts. This continued for years. No material effect on the disease’s progress was ever noted. Eventually several metastases were discovered, until the cancer was generalized. None of the  chemotherapy offered appeared to have had the least effect.  



My role changed over time into one as I became a full-time caregiver. Indeed, after years of feeling like a helpless bystander, there was great consolation in, at last, being able to play a useful role. I had the feeling I was witnessing a hand to hand combat with the cancer, a living breathing adversary.  I hated the losses we were sustaining on a daily basis. The success of radiation sessions in fighting off the external manifestations of the cancer felt like victories.



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