Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things That Make You Go Wow!

I know this is the day of the New Hampshire primary and it is very important because it is the first vote for actual delegates. Of course, in a couple of weeks it will be time for the South Carolina primary. That will be very important because it will be the first vote for actual delegates in the South. And then there will be other primaries and caucuses and they will be very important for other reasons. I've decided to take a break from the process, as important as it is, at least for a day or two, primarily because I came across a story that I think is also very important.

Here's the background to Jeannie Mac Donald's remarkable story in her own words:

I was baptized at Our Lady of Hypochondria Church.

When I get a headache, my mind speeds past simple causes, like "sinus pressure," and goes straight to "inoperable brain tumor." If my leg tingles, it's multiple sclerosis; if my heart hiccups, it's cardiac arrest.

Ah, the pointless trysts with Dr. Google, self-diagnosing ailments I didn't have.

That should sound familiar to all of us, either because we suffer from the same condition ourselves or because we know folks just like Ms. MacDonald. But in this story there is, unfortunately, more to it. A shoe fell rather heavily: Ms. MacDonald was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately the disease was caught early, so the prognosis is good. Still, she required surgery and then a course of radiation therapy.

Let's see — 61/2 weeks of radiation. That's roughly 1,092 hours of worry time. And if worrying was an Olympic sport, I'd be on the Wheaties box.

I had to do something to distract myself.

She decided to take up baking after a casual conversation with one of the people at the hospital giving her the radiation treatment.

Suddenly it hit me: These people eat hospital food every day. While they saved my breast, I could rescue their taste buds from the horrors of lime Jell-O with non-dairy topping that packed more chemicals than antifreeze.

That Monday, I arrived at radiation hauling a three-layer red velvet cake, gussied up with fresh berries. Or, as my family calls it, "crystal meth with cream cheese frosting."

A few days later, I brought a warm-from-the-oven strawberry-rhubarb pie with crumble topping. It was empowering to morph from Frightened Cancer Victim into Aunt Bee delivering a picnic basket to Andy down at the Mayberry sheriff's station.
[Emphasis added]

Empowering, and not just to her:

I got lots of double-takes, sitting in my hospital gown in the waiting room with a cake perched on my lap. Yet I quickly discovered that baking wasn't an escape for me alone. Because they're associated with happy occasions, seeing cakes in such an incongruous setting seemed to transport my fellow oncology patients back in time to childhood kitchens and carefree days before cancer hijacked their lives.

She found a way to get through the horrors of a cancer diagnosis and the horrors of radiation therapy and to assist others through that same horror. A small act? Perhaps, but also an example of something that we too often overlook in humans, all humans: the capacity to not just endure, but to endure and to prevail over seemingly impossible odds and to do so with grace and dignity and just the right amount of humor.

Now, whenever I get to the point of absolute disgust with humanity and its crooked politicians and insane power mongers, I will remember Jeannie MacDonald and her cakes. I will also remember that this fighting spirit is available to us all. That it is just as much a part of us as greed is, as meanspiritedness is, as hatefulness is.

And that should take the edge off.



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