Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Remission and the sword of Damocles

According to the single moral anecdote that mentions him, Damocles – a Greek name that translated literally means fame of the people – was a courtier in King Dionysius' court. Damocles, trying to curry Dionysius' favor, was telling the King how deserving the king was to enjoy such power, wealth, and fame. Recognizing Damocles' compliments as the obsequious behavior that they were, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles. Damocles quickly agreed to the swap.
Dionysius, however, before exchanging places with Damocles ordered that a large sword be suspended by just one hair from a horse's tail directly above the throne. Once seated upon the throne, Damocles looked around to relish his great fortune. Seeing the sword that hung so precariously over his head, fear displaced pleasure and Damocles begged Dionysius to switch places again, each returning to his original seat. Dionysius agreed, observing that fear always accompanied great power.
Remission in the case of an incurable, chronic cancer such as multiple myeloma, can feel similar to sitting under the sword of Damocles. On the one hand, remission affords an opportunity to return to some semblance of a normal life and all of the pleasures of that life. On the other hand, there is the certain knowledge that no matter how long lasting it is, the remission will end, subsequent remissions will be more difficult to achieve and of shorter duration, and that finally the cancer will win.
After almost a month with my cancer in remission, the anecdote about the sword of Damocles highlights several practical truths that have been in the forefront of my thinking.
First, death is inevitable. Everyone who is born will die.
Second, I am thankful not to know the specifics of when or how I will die.
Third, fear helps one live abundantly only to the extent that fear encourages constructive behaviors. For example, I take fifteen plus pills per day in spite of not a general preference for avoiding drugs because my physicians think that those medicines will improve both the quality and quantity of my life.
Fourth, fear unhelpfully limits one's quality of life to the extent that fear drives behaviors and emotions that diminish one's enjoyment of life while not improving either the quality or quantity of one's life commensurately. Illustratively, to avoid any situation that may result in an illness because of one's compromised immune system would mean trying to live in a completely sterile environment in which there is no direct contact with other humans.

In sum, savor each moment as if it were one's last.

1 comment:

Deborah Fox said...

Succinct description of life for me now. Thank you, it connects me to all who live with the sword of cancer. You are in my daily prayers.