September 17, 2004 by
Went with Lydia, Ala and Mio to Isa Lorenzo’s photo exhibit at the plush Pacific Plaza Tower last night. It was a fundraising cocktail hosted by breast cancer survivors. There they were, women of different ages, sizes and shapes, most of them cancer graduates. They exchanged stories and experiences not unlike the way Vietnam or Iraqi veterans or survivors of some other life-changing event would, talking about their histories,wounds and scars, their medals of valor. The most recent survivors, like Lydia still had short hair, a tell-tale sign of recent chemo. I met others who were 5, 9 years in remission. It was inspiring to see them together, this Band of Sisters animated and basking in each other’s heroism.
Lydia and I were asked to give a short talk. She read a speech which she had prepared earlier about her bout with the Big C. She talked about acceptance, centering and gratitude—three things that helped her through it. I decided to go extemporaneous and I mentioned my three things; first, I pointed out that “..actually, Lydia did not have cancer, WE had cancer”, to explain how much we wanted to make the trials and anxieties of it a shared experience. Second, I talked about how paradoxically, something that brought much dread and terrible pain such as breast cancer actually turned out to have gifted us with the opportunity for greater intimacy, closeness, and prayerfulness as a family. Lastly, I expressed that the possible loss of life opened our eyes to gratitude for each day and every moment that we are allowed life together. Half- jokingly, but with a grain of some seriousness, I told the crowd that if survival could only be guaranteed, I would recommend cancer to everyone for what it has done to Lydia and our family!
As I talked and looked at the faces of the women, I could see wisdom and inner joy in many of them, and a kind of steely calm shaped by the fires of suffering and the trial of having stared death in the face and survived it. Many of them, I imagined, were just regular wives, mothers, working women, socialites who before cancer were lost in the mundane world of undramatic living. And now, here they are, transformed into women of substance and experience, cancer warriors who have taken it upon themselves to help the materially less fortunate go through the ordeal of treatment.
Much can be said about tragedy. But when handled well, it can be a great tonic for a more meaningful life. As Scott Peck so aptly put it, “sometimes, the decline in your fortune is the start of your spiritual journey.” Paradox is one of God’s crazy gifts that we must unravel and discover to appreciate. And when we do, there lies the treasure. One can almost say that there are no tragedies really, just opportunities for greater spiritual growth.
After the cocktails, we descended to North Park, a small Chinese restaurant— a venue with air less rarified than the 33rd floor of the plush Pacific Plaza Towers. It was also a good, mundane venue to digest the manifestations of the divine we had encountered earlier.