Scrambled Eggs and Cancer
This piece was written in 2016.
though it feels like yesterday.
My wife was in Cedars Sinai Hospital having her right breast removed. And I was around the block ordering scrambled eggs, a side salad, and a greatly needed mimosa. Eight centimeters of cancer changes everything. And nothing.
As she succumbed to a shot of feel-good juice before being wheeled into the operating chamber, I looked into her burdened eyes and couldn’t help but think how utterly unscrewed this life is. This idea of being human. This circus sideshow. Waking and doing and sleeping and repeating. Then cancer and panic and living wills and oblique explanations to one’s then three-year-old daughter. And unrelenting if-then-whats.
And scrambled eggs with extra pepper and a pinch of basil.
If only I could have simply sucked up and spit out the snake venom so we returned to waking and doing and sleeping and repeating. If only there were some explanation for why one in eight women will develop breast cancer. If only women snatched away the reigns from Capitol Hill men who enjoy erecting one clusterfuck after another. Yeah, and if only gold grew on trees and sparkle dust made bad things go bye-bye.
But this is not life. Nope. Instead, life is Wednesday at 1:30 in downtown L.A. where my wife had her breast forever sliced from her body. The same breast used to nourish our baby. The same breast dappled with freckles. The same breast that expanded and contracted tens of thousands of times over tens of thousands of miles during morning runs and marathons. And though that breast was but one part of a vessel that houses the true worth within, that day’s events remain a vile interruption of the Self. Oh, and we learned that my mother had breast cancer 72 hours before we received my wife’s diagnosis. Three cancers at the same time, one of which is named Trump.
Cancer will kill 600,000 people in the States this year. That’s one person every 30 minutes. That’s your wife, your husband, your child, your sister, your brother, your aunt, your uncle, your cousin, your friend, your neighbor, your teacher, your doctor, your cop, your firefighter, your community. Imagine driving through Portland, Oregon where dead bodies are piled stories high, block after block after block. That’s the devastation we face this year and every year thereafter.
Worse yet, our investment in slaying this six-headed hydra is not yielding the return we so desperately need. In her book titled, A World Without Cancer, Dr. Margaret Cuomo wrote,
“More than 40 years after the war on cancer was declared, we have spent billions fighting the good fight. The National Cancer Institute has spent some $90 billion on research and treatment during that time. Some 260 nonprofit organizations in the United States have dedicated themselves to cancer — more than the number established for heart disease, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke combined. Cancer’s role in one out of every four deaths in this country remains a haunting statistic. Simply put, we have not adequately channeled our scientific know-how, funding, and energy into a full exploration of the one path certain to save lives: prevention.”
But prevention and elimination have forever been tethered to prioritization. And when it comes to prioritizing, America never chooses what is important over what is urgent. This is why we are a dying light in a deep cavern.
The brilliant comedian Richard Pryor once said, ““You can't talk about fucking in America – people say you're dirty. But if you talk about killing somebody, that's cool.”
And let’s face it, America is good at killing somebody - in fact, a lot of somebodies. We have arguably killed more of our own citizens with an utter lack of health and wellness continuity than any other developed nation in the world. We kill more of our own citizens with class warfare preservation than any nation in the world. We kill more of our own citizens by way of guns than any nation in the world. And we kill, mutilate or imperil more global citizens – through obsessive military action – than should even be imagined.
Case in point: 0.00385.
This is the percentage that our government spends on trying to kill cancer here at home compared to trying to kill or police people everywhere else. That’s right. This year, $5 billion will go to the National Cancer Institute while $716 (though argued to be higher) goes to Defense spending. That’s more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, The United Kingdom, India and Germany. U.S. population: 325 million. Total population of those seven nations: more than 3 billion. And yet America somehow continues to justify its assault on foreign devils over its annihilation of a far more ravenous terrorist right here at home.
The number of Americans killed by cancer equals almost half of our active duty armed forces. How would our government feel if half of its military died off by Christmas? The American Civil War was the deadliest conflict in our nation’s history. Yet, cancer is a civil war that claims the same number of victims year after year after year. In fact, we lose the same number of citizens to cancer in one year as we have lost in all wars since declaring our independence.
The perennially plagued and all but failed F-35 fighter jet development program would cost taxpayers $400 billion when all is said and done, that’s if it even gets deployed. The jet’s helmet alone costs $400,000.
Have we lost our fucking minds?
And for those who say what good is cancer prevention if our nation isn’t safe, the answer is simple. What good is our nation if our people are already dead, dying or battered en masse?
Hell, forget cancer for a moment. Let’s talk about all of the other afflictions Americans face right now. I spent hours in an emergency room not long ago with my daughter who has pneumonia. It was like a scene out of a zombie apocalypse movie. Supply and demand were outrageously disproportionate as frantic staffers did their absolute best to manage the overflow of moaning, groaning sufferers.
This is America? This is what we call the greatest nation on earth? The place where excellent, affordable healthcare is a privilege for the few while everyone else is a second-class citizen? Is it any wonder that 62 percent of those who file for personal bankruptcy do so because of insurmountable medical expenses?
Such a battle will never be properly won until we citizens understand that this model is engineered to maintain the status quo. There’s a reason why the average hospital stay costs $10,000. There’s a reason why the average family insurance premium costs $5,000. And there’s a reason why the average generic drug cost has gone up 100 percent a year for years while the average annual cost of cancer drugs increased from $10,000 before the year 2000 to over $100,000 today.
The reason is something that sounds outlandish, insane, the stuff of conspiracy theories. But we have miles of crystal clear evidence to the contrary. People are simply disposable, especially those who are ill or financially challenged or both. Such people are simply a burden on the system designed and maintained by the rich white man. Therefore such men prioritize accordingly, wielding drones and tanks and guns to appear mighty but also to obfuscate their most despicable weakness: failing our most vulnerable citizens.
So, shame on us for not raging against this machine. And shame on you, Republicans and Democrats alike for thinking an investment in cancer is merely “discretionary spending.”
Not long after surgery, our doctor informed us that my wife had cancer in the nodes, that radiation and chemo were mandatory for survival. After her third grueling chemo session, the drug leaked into her bloodstream and poisoned her. She was left with excruciating neuropathy. Her motor skills still remain challenged, even to the degree of confidently holding objects in her left hand. She also fights lymphedema, replete with nagging fluid dispersion which leads to swelling and pain on her right side.
We hoped to avoid such things with a mastectomy. We hoped to avoid losing her breathtakingly beautiful blonde hair. We hoped to avoid telling our little girl that Mommy’s boo-boo needed more medicine, and Mommy wouldn’t be able to pick her up for months. We hoped to avoid postponing our quiet morning runs together. And we hoped to avoid more sleepless nights and more angst-ridden phone calls to those we adore.
But this is the idea of being human, the circus sideshow, the unrelenting if-then-whats that define us. This weekend, I will rise, head into the kitchen and attempt to make my wife and my daughter the best scrambled eggs that I can – replete with extra pepper and a pinch of basil. The three of us will kiss and hug each other even more than we ordinarily do. We’ll build blocks on the living room floor and let our daughter’s imagination run free while my wife and I drift off into our own thoughts of the great unknown. If only we could sprinkle some kind of sparkle dust that would make bad things disappear, like those contemptible, old, white guys laughing us away under the Capitol dome.