Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Footsteps in the sand

I read an article this morning about how some of the cancer support groups called Gilda's Clubs are changing their names. Gilda's Club is named after the Saturday Night Live comedienne Gilda Radner who died of ovarian cancer in the late 80s. The clubs say that more and more of their new and younger members have no name recognition of Gilda. They are renaming themselves to much more descriptive (boring and overlong) titles such as Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin. This made me think about the idea of legacy and how fragile it really can be.

It would be easy enough for these clubs to retain the Gilda name and simply educate new members about who she was, her personal fight with cancer, and all the advocacy work that was done in her name. A trifold brochure would take care of this. A single page on their website could do it, and even include links to videos of her SNL performances. Inform and entertain at the same time. But rather than going the extra step, they are just making the name change and removing the intimacy that comes with it. One of the points of cancer support groups like this is to bring patients/fighters/survivors together and let them know that they aren't alone. Coming to a group named after a cancer patient makes sense. It feels warmer from the get go. I'm personally less inclined to be emotionally interested in a clinically named group. At least be clever and create something with a good acronym. It just feels wrong to me to remove the personal connection in this way.

There are plenty of companies, groups and organizations out there named after people that hardly anyone knows anything about. If you want to know why they're named after so-and-so, then that information is typically readily available. And often in flowery language about how terrific and influential that person was. Why not show a cancer victim the same respect? Part of the beauty of a personally named cancer group is that it shows those current members that one person can be influential, can make a difference, can leave a legacy. It can give them one more reason to fight, one more reason to work harder, and network, and reach out, and live with more purpose.

One thing I've learned this year is that my will to survive and my positive attitude is not necessarily the norm in the cancer and illness community. Although there are many others like me, there are also many many others who give up or sink into depression. It is still hard for me to imagine handling this in any other way than as positively as I can muster. But everyone's personality and situation will shape their own response. A lot of the positive fighters that I see are parents. And their children give them a damn good reason to fight. And they know, even when they are gone, that a part of them will live on in their kids. What about those of us without them? We don't have that easy-out in the legacy department.

I'm not wishing that I did. I am very satisfied with my choice not to have children, I wouldn't change it even in light of current circumstances. But that leaves only this current generation of friends and family to remember me. Personally, I'm okay with that. I'm not really the legacy type, other than a legacy of memories of great times and experiences. In my opinion, most of our lives are just like footsteps in the sand... imprinted but then washed away with the next wave/generation. There are a few geniuses, artists, and sincerely influential people that have created things and that the history writers continue to commemorate. But the grand majority of people live simpler lives and merely fade with the passing of time. These are still good lives. Life is for the living after all... the living people and the living of it.

I'm not any closer to the answer to the meaning of life. I haven't even been looking for it, honestly. I feel lucky, every day, to even have the opportunity to be here living. It's a fluke of nature and circumstance that I, in this guise and with this personality, even exist. All I have is what I have, who I happen to be. I believe life is in the experiences and the connections with others. I've not yet experienced everything I can, all the things on my growing lists. I've not yet explored the depths of all my relationships. I'm too busy right now with these things to worry about what happens when I'm gone. There's nothing I can do about it then anyway. Might as well take this day and these moments and run with them.


  1. Wishing you a no complications and a speedy recovery. Hugs.


  2. Extremely well said. This and your past few entries have brought tears to my eyes. Your positivity and gratitude are inspiring. I wish you the best today and hope that this is your last, or nearly last, step to being cancer-free. *hugs and smiles*

  3. I completely agree with your opinions on cancer group names. I find it much more appropriate to name a group after the person rather than the illness. In the days of google it isn't all that hard to figure out what a group is for, or finding it in the first place without the dry mission statement being the name of the group. It is almost always more effective to show, rather than tell, and showing that you put people first even in the name of your group is a more powerful statement to me than "I do this."

    Being the daughter and step daughter of two cancer widows-I can't say I particularly like that kind of legacy, and even that isn't s guarantee. My little sister doesn't remember my dad, other than his absence and the fall out from that absence. Personally I much prefer his legacy as a teacher. I still run into his students in the oddest places. Estervig isn't a common last name, and "any relation to Dr. Estervig" usually leads to "I loved his classes-how's he doing?" All hilarity often ensues with me trying to figure out how to clue them in without making them feel bad, or outright lying, or creatively lying, "oh, he's taken to, uh... growing lilies?"

    As the years go by though, I've been running more and more into people who know him from his scholarship rather than his teaching. We found it appropriate that he's causing students to excel in biology and genetics in a similar way that he used to.

    Here's hoping your legacy will be a long life lived well, in say 60-70ish years.