January 24, 2016
Recently a woman who I admired and one of my wife's good friends passed away after a battle with cancer. Everyone who knew Sally loved her. How could you not? She was always positive and never let silly little things bother her. Sally was a drama teacher in Howard County; she worked with my kids and touched the lives of thousands of other high schoolers. She inspired her students, some of who continued on to have careers in theater and are now famous. She brought out the best in people; it was hard not smile around her. She was a devoted mother, wife and wonderful friend and she had hundreds of them.
Sally took care of herself, ate well, exercised at Body Pump with my wife for years, loved to do Pilates and she was a genuinely happy person. So when the diagnosis came of advanced cancer, it was just shocking. It's a scary story and causes us to pause. It seems so unfair; Sally was just too young to pass away. How did this happen? Why did it happen? Could this not have been detected sooner to give her a more likely chance for remission? Sadly, there are few answers, just many questions. You might even think what the heck? If this can happen out of the blue to someone who took care of themselves, maybe it doesn't matter what I do. Well, I do have an answer for that one: it does matter. For most of us, we get what we create. For Sally, at present, there is just no explanation. However, I am certain that one day in the near future, we will be able to precisely target many more types of cancer and provide remedies that treat it very effectively. Furthermore, we will have tools to identify cancer at its earliest of stages.
I think most
people do some soul searching when they lose someone. I think that many
also do some soul searching at the beginning of a new year. We pause and
we think about what we can do to be a better person. Here are some
of my own musings:
There are so many situations in life that can get us down: a relationship gone sour, an incapacitating illness, the loss of a loved one or friend. Or the daily turmoil we see playing out in the world: the political theater, the chaotic financial markets, global warming, the Middle East, North Korea, on and on. You may enjoy this passage from Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. I read it periodically when I feel there needs to be a reason that bad things happen.
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.
Sally helped countless young men and women be better people as their teacher and mentor. She loved Broadway productions; besides providing entertainment, she knew many shows were conveying important messages about life: our ups and downs, our joys and sorrows, about love, relationships and purpose. Enjoy this song and the lyrics from the Broadway show "Wicked". The lyrics are meaningful to me and probably anyone who knew Sally or has lost a loved one or friend.
Happy New Year and wishing you good health – HAO
Harry A. Oken, M.D.
Professor of Medicine