Wednesday, August 27, 2008


When I became depressed last summer after finishing my initial blitzkrieg of chemotherapy and radiation, I went to see a psychiatrist who spends a lot of time working with cancer patients. 

He said something to me that seemed obvious then, but has grown more meaningful with time. I can't do it justice, but the pep talk went something like this: "Cancer isn't all you're about. It needs to be attended to, but it can't become everything you are. You are still the person you were before you got sick, and you need to honor that person by making room for your old passions and pleasures -- and finding new ones."

(Obviously, I've been crackerjack on that advice -- writing a cancer blog under the pseudonym Sick Guy. But no, no -- I am honoring who I was, who I am. I've always had a dark sense of humor.)

I was reminded of the doctor's words when I saw Teddy Kennedy speak at the Democratic convention. I was moved more by his presence than what he said. The contingency of it -- no announcement beforehand lest something go wrong and lead to a cancellation -- echoed the uncertainty of my own cancer experience. More echoes: That hair, thinned but still unmistakable, the stool behind the podium, the physical support of his wife, his energetic defiance. 

Kennedy didn't go to the convention because he wanted to hear a house go wild one last time, though I'm sure that was nice. He went because he is passionate about his party's candidate, and because he wants to do one more big thing before he dies. He's doing what all of us dealing with this illness are trying to do, put one foot in front of the other, however laboriously, for the people and causes we love. Even if, especially if, it costs us. My great work is with my family. His is... broader. 

The political blogger Ezra Klein elaborates:

In the last few weeks, I've spoken to a couple Kennedy aides who all told me the same thing: Health care. Kennedy has told them that this is his final crusade. Aides who work in other legislative areas have been told that their issue areas are going to almost dissolve, and they'll become something like support staff for the health team. Kennedy means to pass a bill. He means to muster the full force of his legislative talents, his sprawling staff, his longstanding relationships, and even the poignancy of his condition. It will be his legacy. It is his dream.

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