Thursday, March 08, 2007

Good News for the Glasco Family

A phone call from our brother Keith last evening reported that the “main honcho” had visited Ken at Barnes yesterday afternoon to give a report on the blood marrow tests given last Thursday. The news was good.

I am so ignorant about all this blood stuff--white cells, red cells, blood marrow, chemo--I am not going to say any more than that for fear of being incorrect. The important thing is it was good news.

I have always been embarrassed when friends talked about this sort of thing because I knew I did not understand what they were talking about, and furthermore, I knew the fact that I did not understand was one more piece of evidence that life is unfair. So many parents and grandparents know all about this. I have always been very grateful for my ignorance although ashamed of it.

When our oldest daughter was three or so, we took her from the Illinois side of the river where we farmed in the Mississippi bottoms to Cape Girardeau to shop for a new winter coat. It was an exciting expedition for us because she had older cousins on both sides of the family, and we were fortunate to have beautiful clothes handed down to us. On our tight budget, we were grateful. Nevertheless, it was fun to shop for something brand new.

Suddenly, however, our sales clerk was in tears and had to rush away from us. She came back in a few minutes apologetically explaining that her niece just our daughter’s age had cancer. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of that little girl I never knew. Nor have I forgotten that recognition of the unfairness of life. Unfortunately, many events since then have reinforced that awareness.

The first death I was aware of as a child was my grandmother’s when I was six, and I first heard the word cancer. During all my grade school years, I wanted to be a scientist/doctor, and I wanted to help find a cure for cancer. But childhood ambitions fade, and I did not enter that scientific world. I had an aunt on both sides of my family have cancer and a cousin, but all three lived away and I learned little from their ordeals.

In fact, I felt our family had been unusually free of cancer for many many years until our niece died on New Year’s Day 2002. Again, however, Trudi lived in Texas, and I learned little about the disease itself from that sad loss. Trudi had lymphoma and had been declared in remission and told she could go back to work just a month before her death. She applied and received a part-time job as a registered nurse, but never got to do it because almost immediately she was very ill. There was another completely different cancer lurking in her body that the doctors said they did not know about.

In a way since we have had so few cancer cases, we should not have been surprised to have a family member diagnosed with leukemia. But when a healthy person suddenly becomes ill, it is difficult for the mind to adjust to that knowledge. It seems unbelievable. Visiting a friend this afternoon whose husband has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, I sensed her feeling of wonder that suddenly this healthy man is now taking chemo and their lives are so altered. She is busy learning all that goes with this diagnosis.

Although I failed to do anything with my childhood ambition to find a cure for cancer, I am very grateful for those who stayed the course and have spent their lives studying, observing, experimenting, and discovering not one cure but many cures for all the diseases we call cancer. How much better the odds are today than they were five years ago. I can think of no vocation that deserves more honor from the rest of us than the medical researcher.

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