27 August 2011

RIP Jack Layton

Jack Layton's funeral is today. For any non-Canadians reading, he was a Canadian politician, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and the public mourning for him has been nearly unprecedented. Jack inhabited the far side of the political spectrum from me, but like many (most?) Canadians I admired him a great deal. He always came across as a real person who was passionate & hard working for what he believed. Jack was consistently voted the politician people would most like to have a beer with. He will be greatly missed.

Jack's death on Monday hit me hard, as it did many Canadians. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect it was an especially hard blow for those of us who are also battling cancer. Cancer is so scary because it brings you face to face with your mortality. The universe reminds you loud & clear that ultimately none of us control whether we live or die. But that's really too terrifying to cope with on a day-in, day-out basis, so our brain plays tricks to cope, tries to justify & make rules that if we follow, we can avoid the same fate. The one my brain has grasped onto throughout my treatment is, positive attitude! If I am determined enough, I will beat this. But I could never even hope to match Jack Layton's bulldog tenacity and joie de vivre... and he still lost his battle. The cancer didn't care, and he died anyways. Talk about disheartening.

Which has brought me back to face the sad fact that in spite of the best possible treatments, positive attitude, support & prayer, there is still a large portion of whether any individual cancer patient lives or dies that is simply fate or destiny. I suppose if I was less spiritual I would say "random chance", but I require meaning to get through my days.

In Jack's final letter to Canadians he made special note to address folks in my position:

"To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don't be discouraged that my own journey hasn't gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer."

This note means a lot to me. I think it, like the rest of his letter, shows who Jack Layton was as a person. And it struck me last night that the inspiring lesson I can take from Jack Layton is this: he never let cancer define him. He dealt with it the best he could & kept on living his life, right up to the end. Each of us brings a unique weapon to our battle with cancer: ourselves. We fight cancer by not letting it take our identity & who we are from us. Jack was Jack right up to the end. In that sense even though he lost his battle, in a larger sense he won the war. I will continue to fight my own battle with openness, honesty, probably over-sharing way too much information, and my sense of humour intact. Cancer has changed a great deal about my life, but I will not allow it to change who I essentially am as a person. In that sense, I too have already won... whatever the outcome.

Jack closes his final letter to Canadians with:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.

Lets. Goodbye Jack. I hope you can see the CN Tower blazing orange today in your honour, and that it makes you smile. We miss you.

"Courage my friends, 'tis never too late to build a better world." ~Tommy Douglas
(one of Jack's favourite quotes,
included in his email signature)

1 comment:

  1. Less comments on this post than most. I know I feel an awkward lie wanting to burst forth. Like "you just need the right kind of positive attitude" or "Cancer only kills people with white hair" I feel kind of nauseous because I can't find the right one to wrap my anchor my brain too. So I will go with facts. More young people than old people survive cancer. You have nothing tilting your fate towards cancer. So like so many obnoxious things in life we grit our teeth and see what happens. Also when you get tight jaw muscles from gritting your teeth go for a massage:) Hugs.