The Cowardly Lion & Me
Posted September 23, 2009on:
Years ago when I was writing my first history book I interviewed a man who as a boy had been operated on by the original Dr. Gundersen, founder of Gundersen Clinic in La Crosse.
Charles was a scared 6-year-old boy, but the venerable Dr. Adolf Gundersen was a man who took charge of his operating room.
“Courage boy,” he said as he slapped the ether mask on the boy.
And that was that. You could say the boy had courage – administered by the surgeon who had built his reputation in the early 20th century on successful appendectomies at a time when they were very dangerous.
I write this because many cancer patients, including myself, are accused of being “courageous.” I beg to differ.
With apologies to Janis Joplin who made famous the song, Me and Bobby McGee, it’s NOT “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Instead, it should be “Courage’s just another word for everything left to lose.”
We do what we do because we have no choice. Or, we have choices but none are very good.
Of course, it’s the unknown that is most scary. Franklin Roosevelt may have said, we have “nothing to fear but fear itself.” But for me, I have nothing to fear but chemotherapy itself.
For me, the scariest part of treatment is not losing my breasts but chemo, which I begin today. It’s not the hair loss, although I suspect it is going to be more traumatic that I’m letting myself admit.
What I worry about is nausea and throwing up and just feeling downright crummy. I can joke through many things, but not nausea.
But they tell me they give good drugs; really good drugs (prescription). Still, there must be a reason for the bad rap that chemotherapy gets.
And, I will have eight intensive chemo sessions, two weeks apart. I need and want to keep working and walking, not to mention continuing this blog and maintaining my sense of humor. Am I expecting too much of myself? Maybe. Probably. Hopefully, not.
Thinking about this whole courage thing I remembered that a couple years ago a bunch of us dressed up as the characters from the Wizard of Oz at the La Crosse Symphony. And of all things, I was the Cowardly Lion.
After the Wizard was debunked and admitted he is not a “very bad man,” but a “very bad wizard,” Dorothy and her friends still want what they came for, including courage for the Cowardly Lion, a heart for the Tin Man, a brain for the Scarecrow, and a return to home for Dorothy.
The wizard tells the lion that, “You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You’re confusing courage with wisdom. Back where I come from, we have men who are called heroes. Once a year, they take their fortitude out of mothballs and parade it down the main street of the city. And they have no more courage than you have. But! They have one thing that you haven’t got! A medal!”
I think I paid a few bucks extra to get a medal with my costume, something I remembered whe I was talking about courage with my friend, Jill. I realized courage would be a good topic for the blog, especially on the day that I begin chemo.
Then over the weekend, another friend, Colleen, brought me this statuette of the Cowardly Lion, on which she added this message: “Read what my medal says: Courage. Ain’t it the truth? Ain’t it the truth?”
Colleen thought it could be something to take with me to chemo. It is and the coincidence was amazing.
So what I’m trying to say is that it’s not that folks like me with cancer are any more courageous than anyone else. We’re just doing what we have to do to survive.
(P.S.: and this is a terrible segue, but happy birthday, Maggie. She noted my starting chemo on her birthday is the first step to ensure I’ll be around for many more birthdays of hers. Beautiful thought. Love … )