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Showing posts from November, 2016

Rearranging one's activities following a diagnosis of cancer

Recently, I read some notes that I had made when taking a transition assistance course for senior officers prior to retiring from the Navy. In those notes, I found a list of my hobbies: travel, an active lifestyle that included exercising several times per week and frequent walks with my wife, learning about and enjoying good food and wine, and reading. This autumn, cancer has disrupted all four. My damaged vertebra, caused by my cancer leaching calcium from my spine, no longer permits travel or an active lifestyle. I have gone from comfortably walking ten miles to feeling tired after walking a half-mile. (At times, my oncologist (pro-walking) and my neurosurgeon (anti-walking to avoid damaging my spinal cord) have debated whether I should walk a half-mile.) I'm currently taking eleven different medications, each with its own schedule. Three are for chemotherapy; eight are for coping with side effects that the chemotherapy causes. Even reading is often difficult because the drugs…

My 2016 Thanksgiving

This year Thanksgiving is special because my cancer has deepened my appreciation for life in several ways. One can give thanks to God (as I do) or to the family and friends with whom one shares mutual love and affection (as I recommended for non-believers in my previous Ethical Musings' post, Rethinking Thanksgiving). In either case, I hope that my thoughts on giving thanks will help you to give thanks for the good that you enjoy and that enriches your life. First, the treatment of my multiple myeloma is progressing very well and I am nearing remission. I am grateful for all of the persons who made this possible: research scientists and their staffs; the healthcare personnel who administer the treatment to me in a highly professional manner complemented with personal caring; and the healthcare the nation provides to its military retirees. Second, I am similarly grateful for the potential gains to my mobility, comfort, and decreased risk of some of vertebrae collapsing with subseq…

Rethinking Thanksgiving

The historical roots – at least the mythical if not the factual version – of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US are widely known. Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in England immigrated to the rocky shores of what would become Massachusetts. These pilgrims would not have survived without the assistance, especially gifts of food and agricultural instruction, which they received from the natives. Thanksgiving for these pilgrims, as for many in subsequent observances of the holiday, believed their perceived blessings to be God's gifts.
Today, describing our perceived blessings as God's gifts increasingly rings hollow among believers in God, agnostics, and atheists. Scripture reminds us that the rain falls indiscriminately on both the just and the unjust. That is, good and bad things happen to everyone and are not special blessings intended for a select few. We more accurately attribute the pilgrims' perceived blessing of a bountiful harvest to help from their neighbors …

Thoughts on Trump's electoral victory

Donald Trump achieved an amazing, unpredicted upset to win election as the next President of the United States. What does his victory portend for life in the US, for the future of the US, and for the world? First, the conciliatory, unifying themes that Trump, Clinton, and Obama adopted in their post-election remarks are encouraging. Democracy entails living with outcomes not of our own choosing and while far from perfect is the best form of government known to humans. I personally wish that the energy devoted to protesting Trump's victory had been expended in working for a Clinton win. But to refuse to accept Trump as President of all US citizens and of the whole nation invites more problems than it resolves. Insisting on the dignity and right of all persons to equal respect and treatment represents a more constructive agenda and one that is likely to resonate with Trump's family if not the President-elect. Second, Trump has provided few specifics about policies and programs …

Death and dying

On Tuesday, November 8, Colorado voters approved a measure legalizing assisted suicide, following the lead of Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and a couple of other states in taking this step. A century ago, dying was generally an event or a very quick process. Today, dying is more often a lengthy process than an event. Life support measures such as respirators, intravenous feeding, and hydration can frequently sustain the mechanics of life for long periods, preserving the appearance of life in what is known as a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Medical treatment can concurrently prevent the person dying from a growing array of previously life-threatening diseases and injuries. (For a fuller, clearer exposition of this change, read Haider Javed Warraich's "On Assisted Suicide, Going Beyond ‘Do No Harm’", New York Times, November 4, 2016 at http://nyti.ms/2eaeL36.) In one case that received much media attention, a Florida woman, Karen Ann Quinlan, was kept in a PVS at the …

Sickness unto Death?

The word crisis appears only once in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:26). That is one more time than I had guessed. Paul justifies advising the unmarried and widowed to remain celibate and unmarried in view of the impending crisis that will occur when Christ makes his anticipated eschatological appearance.
Etymologically, the English word crisis comes from the Greek noun krisis, which means decision, and from the Greek verb krinein, to decide. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a crisis as a "time of intense difficulty or danger" or "the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death."
Organized religion in general and the Christian Church in particular face an existential crisis that threatens their continued existence. Symptoms of the present crisis include continuing numerical decline, growing numbers of people who find any religious faith or spirituality incompatibl…

Lessons from cancer

My fight against cancer has taught, or re-taught, me several lessons. First, science is vitally important. Without scientific advances achieved in the last fifty years, I would be dead today. Science has bought me precious additional years of life. More than ever, I am convinced that competitively juxtaposing science and religion in a win-lose contest is wrong. Truth and reality are singular, i.e., science and religion offer different views of the one reality but are ultimately, when rightly understood, compatible. Second, receiving grace – whether through the professional skill of healthcare providers, the prayers of strangers, or the kindness and love of persons whose life had previously intersected with mine – is transformative. For one who is accustomed to giving rather than to receiving grace, this has been an important reminder that everyone needs grace, true grace is unsolicited and free, and that grace is ultimately a window through which divine light shines.
Third, life'…