A friend of mine just sent me this article of his, “Cancer is back, so I have a request …”
In it, Charles Lewis discusses his ambivalence about writing and speaking publicly about his illness.
Of course, in reading a column about it, his decision is made clear and obvious.
The first reason he gives for being public about it is because he hopes that others will pray for him.
A second reason he discerns is that he does not want to go through the burden alone or for he and his wife to shoulder it privately.
A third reason, which I found particularly interesting comes up when Lewis concludes, “Besides, why hide it? Would not that be a form of pride?”
Today is the anniversary of the death of Terry Fox on June 28th, 1981.
One of the most memorable aspects of my early education was learning the story of Terry Fox and participating in the Annual Terry Fox Run in order to raise money and awareness for cancer research.
We would sit on the gym floor in an elementary school-wide assembly and watch either a short film or a longer documentary about the young man who had cancer and attempted to run across Canada from coast to coast on his prosthetic leg.
Today my friend Max told me the story of a turning point in his life.
It was summer vacation and he was a seventeen-year-old teaching English in Spain at a camp for boys.
During the camp, he came across this prayer card with a short description of Venerable Montse Grases, a young woman who “knew how to find God in the loving fulfillment of her work and study duties, in the small things of each day.”
Montse had been diagnosed with bone cancer as a teenager and, “throughout her illness, she never lost her infectious cheerfulness or her capacity for friendship.”
Max was totally struck by the fact that Montse died when she was 17 – the same age he was then.
My aunt Danielle Hall (on the right) is a dual citizen who was born in Calgary and now lives and works as a hospice nurse in Chicago.
She traces her interest in working with the dying to when she was just five years old.
“I think how it started, when I reflect back, is that since my mother would often get headaches, she taught me how to rub her head to relieve them,” Danielle reminisced. “My mom would lay on the couch and I would stand behind her, rubbing her head with my fingers in circles around her forehead, and that’s when I first realized that I had a healing touch.”
It would be understandable if, upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, a person were to retreat, to withdraw.
But that’s not Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka’s way. Instead, as ever, he continues to show leadership, to give example, and, above all, to generously go outside of himself for the good of others.
It seems that every time there is a tragedy or crisis, particularly in which his community or he himself is implicated, Rabbi Bulka has something to say with humility, sincerity, and gratitude.
A friend of mine shared this evocative quotation with me spoken by the protagonist in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel Cancer Ward:
“Come on, tell us, what are you most afraid of in the world now? Of dying! What are you most afraid of talking about? Of death! And what do we call that? Hypocrisy!”
It may take reading those lines over a few of times in order to be startled by them.