I ended Part One of “I Have Been Provoked” with these words, “we have to rethink the fight with cancer.” I never expected to be in the middle of this fight. Heck, I never expected to hear the words, “you have cancer.” Even worse, those words were not spoken to me. They were spoken to my wife just 11 years ago. 3 months ago, I woke up in a room at Seton Hospital in Austin, Texas, and my wife was no longer breathing. Cancer did this. Cancer. Cells that have lost their sense of direction, their sense of purpose, their ability to control themselves. I have been provoked.
Now, it is also important to point out what cancer didn’t do, can’t do, will never do. Maureen was Maureen each and every day of her fight. She was a beautiful mother of three, an architect, my wife, my BFF, my soulmate. Cancer only attacks the body. It does not attack the soul. God owns our soul, and He welcomed my sweetie home the morning of October 21, 2014. He breathed new life into her soul, as cancer lost its fight that day. Cancer only attacks the body, not the soul.
But, I have been provoked, and I am speaking in stark terms, as I said in Part One. We have to speak in stark terms. Over 7 million people will have their bodies stop working this year, like Maureen, because of cancer. Some of the people in this fight are my friends, people I love dearly. Cancer changes everything. Sure, we have some tools that let us wage the fight more fairly for some cancers than others. These targeted therapies are exciting. Some, like Gleevec, literally turn the tables on cancer. They go into those cells and basically say, “I am sorry you are confused. I am sorry you have lost your sense of direction. I can’t fix you, but I am going to stop you. The rest of this beautiful body doesn’t need you wreaking havoc on it. So, stop. Now.” We need more of these tools. These 7 million people are too precious, too beautiful, too special, just like Maureen. We can and must change the terms of battle.
I have been provoked. We all need to be provoked, because, quite frankly, not only has cancer lost its sense of direction, but we have lost our sense of direction in the fight itself. When I go into waiting rooms, I see cancer in the faces of the people sitting there. Close your eyes and see them for yourselves. They are old, and they are young. They are female, and they are male. They are white, black, hispanic, asian. They are us. And, they are scared.
Perhaps, they have just been diagnosed for the first time. Perhaps, they have finished their treatment, and they are hoping to still be in remission after a month, a year, five years. They are scared. What will I do? Will it work? Has it come back? Will I have nausea? Will I be able to give birth to my daughter was the question we asked 11 years ago. Will I get to watch our children graduate high school was the question we asked 6 years ago when Maureen’s cancer came back. Every question is a hard question. Every cancer is a hard cancer. Every time I look into the faces in a waiting room, I wonder about the questions each and every person is asking of themselves. We need to question ourselves and ask if we have been provoked enough to change everything. I have.
I have no special expectations of myself. I remember frequently these words, “from dust to dust you shall return.” This body is not mine. It is only mine for a day, this day. Because, right now, I am breathing, and I can do something. I can do something different. I also realize this is not about me. This is not about any of us. This is about being provoked. This is about hoping others are provoked. This is about hoping others are provoked enough to be willing to change everything. Provoked enough to rethink research; provoked enough to rethink clinical trials; provoked enough to rethink patents and regulation; provoked enough to realize that collaboration is as important as competition; provoked enough to rethink hospitals, cancer centers, healthcare; provoked enough to realize that onco-philanthropies were born not to compete with each other but to compete with cancer; provoked enough to realize that we don’t have to do everything in the fight; but provoked enough to realize that the one thing that we can do well is exactly what the fight needs. And, the fight needs each of our individual gifts, right now, right here, today.
As Peter Gabriel does so beautifully performing this orchestral version of the David Bowie/Brian Eno classic, “Heroes,” live in Verona in 2010, “we only need to be heroes, just for this one day.” We each have today. We must be provoked. We can be heroes.