don kerr

4 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Cancer tails: Why our lives will never be cancer free and why we must take sides

i F

I posted the following on my site Riding Shotgun ( yesterday and posted a link to it as a buzz on beBee. The piece garnered some interesting responses (one in particular which I hope to share with you when/if I get the author's permission) so I thought perhaps I should share it here. 

No. That's not a typo in the headline. This entire blog revolves around tales of cancer but this one in particular addresses the tail that the disease attaches to one's life.

I better explain.

Kate was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer almost six years ago. Earlier this year she passed the 'critical' five-year mark and is now cancer free.

But is she? And are all of us who form her immediate and extended family?

Are we free of the memories that were created on that day, November 3, 2011, when she picked up her phone in the middle of her office and learned that her life was about to change irrevocably?

Are we free of the imprint left on my soul when Kate's GP called to inform me of the diagnosis while I waited in line to retrieve my boys from their school?

Are we free of the concern that our sons will be equipped to deal with the reality that their mom may be gone before they have realized the full benefit of her love and care?

The answer to all of these queries is a resounding NO!

As I write this we are coming off a few days of particularly troubling examples of the current human condition. A 64-year old retired account and gambler murdered 59 concert goers in Las Vegas. Another deranged and damaged human struck down innocent pedestrians with a van in Edmonton. And that's to say nothing about the appalling narcissistic performance by the President of the Excited States of America in Puerto Rico where he proclaimed that hurricane Maria wasn't really such a big deal because only 16 people lost their lives. 

All my reminiscences today revolve around a moving quote from Elie Wiesel who, in 1969, wrote:

"We must take sides...Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

Whether it is on the issue of gun control, tyrannical politicians motivated solely by lining their pockets, the rampant endorsement of the military industrial complex in polluting our world with weapons that promise nothing but death, the ludicrous claims of climate change deniers who will willingly deliver future generations to a dystopic world where consumption and greed are the drivers of being, the forced emigration of thousands upon thousands of people from despotic regimes or the continuing presence of cancer in our lives - we must take sides!

I have a good friend who is a prolific writer. His name is Jim Murray. Like me, he's a well-used ad man. Unlike me he has an artistry about his writing that cuts through all of the bafflegab and pap to which we are so often subjected by pretty much every media source extant. Here's something he wrote just today.

"Everywhere I look I see carnage and man’s inhumanity to man riding roughshod over whole races, whole cultures, whole ideologies.
"People enslaved by the greedy and the powerful. People turned into reluctant nomads because the winds of change have become uncontrollable and blow literally from all directions.
"I am exhausted from trying to keep track of the ever rising body count in my head as a reminder that life is so much cheaper than it used to be."

If you want to read his full essay please follow this link.

This is what cancer brings to your life - it makes life much cheaper than it used to be.

Or does it?

On those days, this being one when the long-term impact of Kate's diagnosis just plain wears me down, I feel defeated. All of our brave talk about turning toward adversity and learning how to move forward in life with insight and enlightenment seems so much nonsense. All of our efforts to simplify our lives and live for the present moment seem futile and the present moment feels empty as a hollowed out pumpkin. All desire to see the beauty that exists in the small moments renders me saddened and listless.

On other days, of which there have been many, we are able to fully wrap ourselves in the words of Horace who wrote,

"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant."

A major part of my deciding to take a side centered on my determination, from the get-go, to share our family's story on this blog. That determination evolved into the publication of my book, Riding Shotgun: A book for men and the partners they care for, which documents how we found our way down the cancer trail. 

I wrote the book in an attempt to help men in positions similar to mine find a way to show up. Written with clarity and simplicity, the book contains useful advice born of our five-year ordeal that opens a window to the unspoken issues that many encounter while confronting the apparently impossible. I also tried to make clear to the reader how people can find beauty in the wreckage.

I stand by my determination that this book make a difference in even a few lives but on these days when I find the cancer tail wagging the dog, I wonder if I have been pushing water uphill.

And then, I think of all of the thousands of people experiencing grief and tragedy - not of their making - and wonder if the whole notion of finding beauty in the wreckage is naive in the extreme.

Until we as people, collectively, stand up on our hind legs and shout that we will not be beaten, that we will demand a return to humanity and collective goodwill, we will remain victims of our own circumstances with no one to blame but ourselves.

While the cancer tail will remain forever attached to the rear end of our lives, we are determined that it will wag and that we'll carry on trying our damndest to find the beauty in the wreckage while taking a side!

Photo credit: David Werbrouck @ Unsplash

© Copyright 2017, Don Kerr, Don Kerr Writes - All rights reserved.





Riding Shotgun: A book for men and the partners they care for  is available in both digital and print versions from the following sites:



Full Circle Publishing

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don kerr

4 years ago #23

Dorothy Cooper We are all touched. Thanks for your commentary.

don kerr

4 years ago #22

Ian Weinberg Thank for your kind comments.

Ian Weinberg

4 years ago #21

Just concluded my last consultation of the week. It was a young woman who has not only survived a brutal medical history, but has transcended it by arriving at a place of acceptance and fortitude. I really doubt whether I could have survived as she has. And so to you Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr and your wife, my patients and all the other brave folk that absorb the body blows and soldier on with fortitude in an unjust world, I raise my glass and tip my hat in respect.

don kerr

4 years ago #20

Lisa \ud83d\udc1d Gallagher Good of you to stop by to deliver hugs. Thanks.

don kerr

4 years ago #19

Phil Friedman Simply put - thank you my friend.

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #18

Very powerful Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr. I have heard other family members of cancer survivors and the survivor themselves, describe how cancer affects the person and entire family in many ways long after being told they are cancer free. I can only imagine that it would cause post trauma and certain events can cause people to relive certain moments in time. As for the rest of the world and all that has taken place, I swear, I'm at a loss for words. My only way to deal with it is to do what I can to help others and yes, live life to the fullest. I remember before I left for N. Carolina I told a friend I actually felt guilty going after what happened in PR and to other hurricane ridden Islands, then I arrive and hear the news of Vegas. I agree, we can't keep our tail between our legs and 'pray' that things will just improve. It takes a lot of action and we all have our work cut out for us. Hugs to you, Kate and your family! Thank you for sharing this honest buzz, well written!

Phil Friedman

4 years ago #17

Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr, read this carefully, but quickly -- for this is not a usual form of expression for me, and it may disappear at any time. I am not often inspired and even more rarely do I talk about it. But people like you and Kate, and Char and her husband, and Jim and what must certainly be his "better half" inspire me to my core. For you meet life's travails with courage and tenacity. You do not romanticize misfortune, nor do you use your own challenges as a spotlight to garner attention for yourselves. What you do is offer encouragement and support and the wisdom born of experience to those who are walking the trail beside you. And I have to tell you that you guys are truly my superheroes. -- Phil Friedman

don kerr

4 years ago #16

Thanks so much Tausif Mundrawala

don kerr

4 years ago #15

Always appreciated Susan \ud83d\udc1d Rooks, the Grammar Goddess

don kerr

4 years ago #14

Pascal Derrien Thanks so much friend.

don kerr

4 years ago #13

It touches everyone doesn't it Deborah Levine? Thanks for reading.

don kerr

4 years ago #12

Appreciate your readership

don kerr

4 years ago #11

Jim Murray Most days are pretty good but every once in a while it just bites you in the ass.

don kerr

4 years ago #10

Lisa Vanderburg PD is wicked. My Aunt Dorothy experienced it and it gradually wore her down to a mere shadow. Best wishes to you.

don kerr

4 years ago #9

Too right Laurent Boscherini. One day at a time.

don kerr

4 years ago #8

I appreciate you stopping by Randall Burns How are things in the kitchen?

Randall Burns

4 years ago #7

Great article Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr Very heartfelt, I can relate...

Laurent Boscherini

4 years ago #6

Thank you Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr for sharing your insightful and inspiring journey. Every small step counts. We might not reach all our goal today but that is okay, because each new day is one more day as a bonus.

Lisa Vanderburg

4 years ago #5

2: I've been intimately involved with cancer - my sister, who died Jan 2015. She's one of these very rare birds: a shut-in yet the best carer ever! She used to look after me during my many meningitis bouts (because my hubby didn't know 'what to do'). My hubby is into more advanced Parkinson's; she helped me look after him too. Please accept this is NOT a comparison; the bandied-about phrase for PD is 'you don't die from it, you die WITH it'! It's meant to cheer everyone up and it's the biggest load of crap. I know. I write about it (not here). I also know how it will end; my whole life is built around keeping my man safe in an ever degenerative state that will rob him of whatever dignities he has left; his autonomic systems are fully under its curse now. Well done Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr....I understand the switch on the radio! :)

Jim Murray

4 years ago #4

Nobody should have to go through what you, Kate and your boys have gone through. But sadly too many people do. And because it's something they usually have no experience with, guidebooks like Riding Shotgun can be invaluable. A book like this is hard to read when everything is peachy, but quite the opposite when things go south. And the cold hard truth is that this disease or something as debilitating will touch just about everyone. A lot of people say that raging against these things and the systems that have made them a reality in our lives is pointless. It's not. It's important, albeit, uphill work that we all must do.

Lisa Vanderburg

4 years ago #3

Elie Wiesel's perfect sentence, "We must take sides...Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." This exemplifies the message you're delivering Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr's expression of what most of us feel, but won't say is band on: "I am exhausted from trying to keep track of the ever rising body count in my head as a reminder that life is so much cheaper than it used to be." END 1

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #2

President of the Excited States must say I giggled a bit on that one :-) Now on the cancer free aspect of the article I concur but sometimes it is hard, an hour ago on my way to pick my daughter a national radio who had been fundraising for 3 weeks on cancer broadcasted a heartbroken story about a son and mum gone within 7 weeks and when the presenter got into the pancreatic details of the ordeal I had to switch off the radio partly because my MIL died early because of the same prognosis and also us diabetics don't really like talking pancreas stuff....:-) . I took a breath took side and switched the radio back on just in time to catch the message of hope the husband and father wanted to pass on to all of us..... keep up the good work it makes a difference
Bravo, Don \ud83d\udc1d Kerr! Bravo. Yes. We do need to take a stand on things that make us less human, that seem to say human life is worth less than we thought it was. And the fact that you were able to write that book to help others is huge. Any life-threatening disease has lasting implications, even with wonderful outcomes.

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