My father’s diagnosis of squamish cell carcinoma of the lung in 1977 coincided with the release of Episode IV of the Star Wars movies, the original Lucas film. On the night before his scheduled lung surgery my mother and father went out for BBQ ribs and a movie. They went to see Star Wars. Both my mother and father found the whole idea of “the force” compelling. The film was released in late May of 1977. When the surgeon came to talk to the family after the operation he was not too very encouraging. “Go home and put your affairs in order,” he cautioned.
We did not expect my father to be alive for the Thanksgiving of 1977 yet when the fourth Thursday in November rolled around, there he was, quite alive and not ready to give up. Apparently the Force was with him! I learned a powerful lesson 35 Thanksgivings ago; never give up and be thankful for this very moment of life.
As the first Thanksgiving after my own diagnosis of adenocarcinoma of the prostate, I have been reflecting on those many years ago when, as a son, I experienced my first real experience with cancer. Much earlier, around my 14th or 15th year my grandmother died of colon cancer, but, while we knew grandma was ill the whole thing was hush-hush. Not until my father developed lung cancer was there anything like a recognition of the effects of this disease.
At the Thanksgiving table in 1977, my mother, in tears, expressed the simple idea that until this very moment, Thanksgiving was just a time to eat turkey and be stuffed. At that very moment, her deeply felt thanks was clear and unequivocal.
Flash forward 34 years to last Thanksgiving. My wife and I have hosted the family for the past 20 years. At the table, before we began to eat, my oldest grand-niece, my sisters grand-daughter, Ellie, all of 5-1/2 years old, decided it would be a good idea that everyone at the table tell everyone else exactly what they were thankful for. We all did. I thought at the time that this would be a grand tradition to continue for many years to come.
This Thanksgiving, we have expanded from a small family group of around 10 people to a host of folks (24 at last count). I will ask Ellie to ask people to talk a little about what they are thankful for and then go around the several tables, each in turn. When my turn comes…well I don’t think I’ll tell here because then people at the table won’t need to listen to me. Suffice it to say that as this Thanksgiving approaches I am thankful for early detection, for the diligence of my internist, and for the thoughts of so many people offering their support as I face the coming ordeal. This year Thanksgiving takes on an entirely different meaning.