Up and ever onward: My wife’s battle with cancer.

Aug 28, 2011

I have often said: “Life has a way of getting in the way of itself.”  I had been implying that life plans don’t necessarily work out due to the vagaries of life itself.  In my wife’s case, a more literal interpretation is fitting.  A DNA replication error set in place a rapid cell duplication process resulting in invasive ductal carcinoma.  Her breast cancer, this life gone amok, has taken center stage.


Talk about a game changer – this changes everything.  In my role as a psychologist I long ago became acutely aware of just how wrong things can go in life, and these professional experiences solidified in me the importance of appreciating the things that go well.  It has also instilled in me the knowledge that absolutely nothing is permanent.  But this cancer diagnosis has taken this enlightenment to a whole new level.


Thomas Hobbes once noted, “… the life of man, [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  Historically, this has been true for many of our ancestors, and it remains true for many today.  Such is not the case for many of us who have been fortunate to be born into a time and place where survival is not an everyday struggle.  But when facing a diagnosis of cancer,  Hobbes’ perspective seems particularly cogent.  I can only imagine how true this perspective must be for Kimberly.  Although her family surrounds her with love and support, only she alone, faces the scaring scalpel and the life sucking chemotherapy.


In the vast configuration of things, we all know that she is not alone.  Many people go through this, but none of those near and dear to her, know what she endures and fears.  Life for her has temporarily, and most certainly, become at times, nasty and brutish.  There is an ebb and flow to this process, but the difficult times rob her of the many activities that filled her with zest.  Even at relatively good times, her quality of life is a poor reflection of what it had been. Often food is less tasty, if desirable at all.  Restful sustained sleep is hard to come by and endurance and fortitude seem to be a thing of the past: as is her gorgeous full head of hair.  It’s one thing to be a man and gradually lose one’s hair over a period of decades (I know it well).  It’s quite another to be a woman and leave a trail of hair where ever you go.  And really feeling good – it’s an occasional visitor that does not stick around long.  I know this is torturous for her.  It breaks my heart.


On the plus side, there is the reality that this life-run-amok has changed perspectives and brought our family closer together.  From my point of view, it has brought into focus what really matters in life.  It has freed us from the banal fruitless issues du jour.


But underneath this greater closeness is a universal fear.  We all share it, but I am certain that it resonates deeper in Kimberly’s mind.  The fear is: “What if this isn’t over?”  We have no certain answers, but the statistics are on her side.  Long term survival is the norm.  This is one form of cancer that science and medicine has effectively constrained.


Her chemo is a preventative measure, not one aimed at eking out a few months or years.  With this in mind, I try to frame this phase of treatment within the context of a physical challenge.  One of our favorite activities is riding our tandem bicycle.  We don’t just get on a clunky unwieldy tandem and leisurely putz around town.  We ride a high tech machine and we ride it hard and fast.  A typical ride covers 20 to 30 miles and often involves ascending some of the biggest hills in our area.  These climbs are often long and brutal – requiring a special focus and tenacity.  The reward however, is the effortless descent that is sweeter for the effort that made it possible.  Over the next few months we will be climbing a new and even more difficult hill – struggling as we go.  We shall strive to endure it for the rewards on the other side.  We will make it.


And once we reach the top, it is my sincerest hope that all of us who have fought this battle with Kimberly will make the best of the rest of the ride.   Life, with or without cancer,  is short and exceptionally precious.  This experience has certainly and deservedly taken center stage, but it has also put a spotlight on what is truly meaningful.  The other stuff is just clutter.  Meanwhile, the slow arduous slog continues – and we endeavor upward with anticipation of the sweet descent.  All the while we take solace in the warm glow of love that sustains us and powers us up and ever onward.

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6 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Kevin
    August 31st, 2011 at 10:44 am #


  2. Michael R
    September 14th, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    In addition to medical treatment, on the preventative health side of the equation, you might want to check out the work of Dr Max Gerson. Gerson discovered by accident that a raw food dietary regime often cures cancers.

    A few books who follow this approach:

    A Time To Heal – by Beata Bishop
    Cancer Winner – by Jaquie Davison
    Cancerproof Your Body – by Ross Horne

    Some of Ross Horne’s older books are online at:

    Good luck.

  3. Gerald Guild
    September 15th, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you for sharing. We often hear of these alternative and dietary approaches from very well intentioned folks. For now, however, we are pursuing a science based medicine approach because it has proven, and well documented, efficacy. I favor open minded dialogue, and as such, I have approved your comment. I did so with a bit of reluctance for fear that it may appear as though I am endorsing alternative treatment modalities. To be clear, I make no such endorsement. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the wonders and marvels of modern medicine. That being said, it can’t hurt to pursue healthy lifestyle choices that have biological plausibility and reasonable evidence. I do appreciate the fact that you taken the time to share your insight and your wishes for wellness.

  4. Michael R
    September 17th, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Hi Gerald,

    “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the wonders and marvels of modern medicine.”

    True, I’m not anti science. I wish science would study diet-based therapies like Gerson over a long period. I’ve read enough stories to know that it often, but not always, cures people.

    But you make a common mistake to call diet-based therapies an “alternative treatment”. They are not primarily treatment, rather, they promote the optimal internal environment for self healing i.e. “an alternative to medicine, not alternative medicine”, to quote one “alternative” practitioner.

    Modern medicine is largely myopically concerned with treating symptoms, which is miles apart from promoting self healing. But there’s literally a tonne of anecdotes of people recovering from various diseases through raw-food diets. And the picture that relentlessly comes through all these stories is the wonder of the body healing itself when given optimal nutrition. (The healing probably comes from sustained detoxification rather than supplying missing nutrients).

    You can dismiss these as anecdotes and have faith that modern medicine has all the answers, or you can take them as facts to be explored. One path has comfort and trust, the other has skepticism and a bit of reading effort. Often it’s only a crisis that shatters people’s confidence in modern medicine. It’s not that modern medicine is wrong, simply that modern medicine is myopically concerned with symptoms rather than promoting self healing.

    There’s a tonne of literature on self healing out there. It’s just that people don’t see it because they have faith that modern medicine has all the answers. Faith and ignorance: that’s all that stands between you and this wealth of knowledge. Explore it, or conform to your faith. Your choice.

    There’s plenty of science referenced in Ross Horne’s books, to support the self healing through nutrition hypothesis, from memory.

    Good luck.

  5. Gerald Guild
    October 13th, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    I have never before been accused of having too much faith in anything. Ignorance – well, that’s another story. 🙂 I do understand your point however. I view a healthy diet as absolutely essential for good health and recovery and do not necessarily link them in my mind, as “alternative treatments.” I am skeptical about anecdotes however, and I rarely make decisions based on them. I must additionally point out that the doctors I am familiar with, do take great issue with the accusation that they are only concerned with treating symptoms (anecdotal information – I know 😉 ). They are very concerned about and guided in their practice by the goal of curing the person and promoting wellness. This “myopic” notion fits a mindset held by many who have much to gain from promoting a plethora of unproven alternative and complimentary medicine practices. This does not necessarily mean that one should throw the baby out with the bath water however. Separating the wheat from the chaff is a challenge without aggregated data (generated via double blind placebo controlled studies). Again I do appreciate your advice, concern and insight.

  6. 2011- A Year in Review: How Do You Think? - How Do You Think?
    October 3rd, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    […] cancer.  These articles include: (a) What not to say to someone with cancer: And what helps; (b) Up and Ever Onward: My Wife’s Battle With Cancer; (c) Cancer, Aging, & Healthcare: America, We Have a Problem; (d) We’re Number 37! USA […]

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