Percoset and Puppies

I spent the evening of my 19th wedding anniversary either in pain or cuddled up to my dog half stoned on Percoset while my wife looked on helpless as I ached. I tell you this because every time I post something about my treatment, or my progress through lymphoma, my Facebook page is met by comments about being brave or being in inspiring. I am neither. I am obedient, desperate to live, and have little choice but to bear the aches, shivers, tiredness, insomnia, constipation, hairlessness, muscle spasms, nausea, and randomness of chemo other than to die.

There is nothing noble about cancer. There is nothing ennobling about cancer. I think people seek to create some aura of sacrifice around it because unlike some diseases, it is random, and impossible to blame on the victim’s behavior. It is also scary, and we all hope that if we come down with cancer, we will act nobly.

Cancer does not make me noble. It makes me afraid and sick. It makes me every day make promises of redemption to my family, friends, and co-workers. “Next year, we’ll do our anniversary in Hawaii,” “next birthday we’ll have a big party,” “next time I teach I’ll pay more attention.” My life has increasingly become a promissory note; one conditioned upon survival.

In the past I wrote about using cancer not as an excuse, but as a motivation to engage, and live. What I know now is that excuse must be tempered by the realities of toxic chemicals and a race to kill the cancer before the treatment kills me. I have no doubt that I will live, and that I will make that trip to Hawaii, and that I will pay more attention, but that will not be the automatic result of cancer, or some ennobling trauma. That will be a choice, and that will be hard work.

I have been blessed in my career to come to a point where people I highly respect seek my advice. I have, over these months talked, and schemed, and commiserated with people in their own fights. They don’t fight out-of-control cell growth, or the side effects of drugs, but their own circumstances. A leader overrun by bureaucracy. A new employee discovering a work environment not living up to promises. A dear friend making decisions between jobs and family. A director faced with a staff unwilling to see the future. None of these are ennobling. None of these trials get the sympathy and unconditional sightings of bravery of a cancer diagnosis. Yet I have seen in all of these situations an opportunities to be noble, and brave.

Too often we look at the roles we choose in our work life as either necessities or reduce them to matters of salary. We forget that each activity we engage in, by choice, or by fate, is an opportunity to better ourselves, and be better than we thought we could be. Every encounter with out dated thinking or ignorance is an invitation to educate, not just walk away. Every bad situation is a call to either improve it, or leave it, and both options can be legitimate.

We too often reserve concepts of nobility for the few and the extraordinary. Yet there is nobility in the everyday, and in every task we take on. There is nobility in bureaucracy, there is nobility in the minimum wage, there is nobility in the entry level, and the home, and in play. It comes not from suffering, but in our ability to serve, and the cashing in of our IOU’s…sometimes waiting for a capabilities to return to do so.

Stop calling me brave. Come back in a year and see if my actions inspire, or ennoble. Until then, I will take your prayers and your food, and your well wishes. But mostly what I want is your stories of bravery. It is from those that I draw my strength.

25 Replies to “Percoset and Puppies”

  1. Thanks as always Dave, for shooting from the heart and making a great deal of sense. You, too could choose not to share what you’re going though. I’m glad you are. In the meantime, thinking of you and yours. Warm thoughts and good wishes helped me when I was dealing with a family member’s cancer.

  2. WOW- What can a “healthy” person say to that. I took a walk today and thought of ways to help feed my sister. She just moved into a new home with no refridgerator or appliances that work. I brought her a hot cup of coffee and a bagel & cream cheese. I try to do one act of kindness every day. Sue

  3. I don’t know what to say. I am just an ordinary soul trying to make sense of my world like everyone else. No brave stories on my end. I can only empathize and send positive thoughts your way :). I hope this bad patch ends soon. I feel sad that you are going through this.

  4. There are no words. This was a very powerful post. I am at a stage in my life and career where things need to change and I am working very hard to change them, but the actual event is not happening soon enough for me. I know you’re stating you don’t want to be an inspiration but you have been to me. Thank you. I only hope that one day I can repay the favor.

  5. I was sorry to hear about the cancer. Thank you for letting us know why you’d disappeared.

    I’ve the had the pleasure to hear you speak on a couple of occasions and you’ve always inspired me to go back to my life with the intent to do more and do better. Like The Wicked Librarian said, you already have the characteristics of nobility and bravery.

    While I’ve never had cancer, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder years ago. It’s been its own sort of hell, particularly during the time I was so agoraphobic that leaving the house caused severe panic attacks. But, I did what I had to do to get better, much like you with chemotherapy. It was a nightmare to go out for doctor and therapy appointments; yet I was determined my illness would not define me or determine the course of my life.

    Ten years from that first horrid panic attack, I am better. From a woman who could hardly step outside her front door and got physically ill when in public too long, I’ve become a woman who has made it a mission to give back to the profession and to the greater world. There are many people who inspire me to continue the effort and you are one of them.

    Thank you.

  6. Not to be contrary, but sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is point out their own lack of bravery, vulnerability, and desire for help.

    It’s small pebbles, but the brave thing that I’ve been particularly intentional about lately is showing my student workers my own fallibility: pointing out and acknowledging my own failures. Not in a self-absorbed or destabilizing fashion, of course; just doing my best to model the assumption that we should all still be learning to do our jobs, and that even the most seemingly competent among us can’t do that without messing up on a regular basis.

    Love and strength to you, my friend.

  7. My father-in-law recently passed after a two-year battle with cancer. You’re absolutely right – there’s nothing ennobling about cancer. It’s an ugly disease that fights dirty.

    What made my father-in-law noble – what made him brave – were the choices he made as he faced it. The principles he held to, even in the worst of his pain and suffering. His choices and actions in his fight against cancer were the last in a lifetime of good, strong, brave, and selfless choices.

    Cancer didn’t make him noble and brave, but it proved the nobility and bravery at the core of his being in a whole new way.

    Cancer isn’t noble… but you are.

    Cancer doesn’t make you brave… but you choose to be brave when you face it.

    You may not see that all the time but it’s very clear to the rest of us. The choices you’ve made prove it.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  8. Sadly I think think that there’s not much point in arguing about bravery and nobility. Application of those terms to another struggling human being just creates distance between the commenter and the struggler. I learned that as an adoptive parent of older kids–people invariably considered me either a saint or a crazy person, and I’m neither. That isn’t to say that one can’t admire Dave’s attitude and honesty–I think we all can agree on that.

    For me–not into prayer–I keep Dave in my thoughts, and will continue to do so. I selfishly admit to looking forward to his recovery to continue some interrupted conversations. Take good care, Dave!

  9. As always, Dave, you have nailed it. We love you. Thinking of you and thinking of Anna Maria. And your family. Looking forward to hearing of the celebration of your anniversary next year and many years after. You WILL get there. And the promissary notes should be from us to you. We promise to be there for you, help you through (even from afar). We are indebted to you for how you make us better librarians and human beings and give us hope and inspiration. But, truly, love and caring for one’s friend abhor’s the balance sheet. And since you asked for stories; this is not of bravery, but just of understanding; 10 years ago this month I was told my cancer had spread throughout my breast and it would need to be removed after 3 previous surgeries. I was terrified, I was desperate. I blindly made it through my younger son’s high school graduation somehow and had my mastectomy a week later. Yes, obey, yes, curse, yes, cry, yes, say “I am not sure I can get through another procedure,” yes, but I FEEL like saying no, but, ultimately, here’s that damned defiant YES to get me through another second, minute, hour, day, week, month. And finally, Dave, 10 years from now you will be able to say…YES…”I had cancer 10 years ago, and now I know that if there need be a choice between what one loves and who one loves in life, the who is what ultimately counts – but I’ll take both and deserve both, if I can get it”. That is the lesson I learned, not through choice, not through bravery, but through sheer stubbornesss, the realization that there is no other option and, ultimately, through the caring and love and support of others. Believe me, (and I didn’t believe it at the time), but, I say again, believe me, the day WILL come when you will go to bed at night and say, wow, I didn’t think about having cancer once today. And I will wait for the day when you tell me that has happened, my friend.

  10. Happy belated 19th anniversary. I just celebrated my 19th anniversary on the 14th which is always right at graduation time for every college and university around us. So we usually wait until the hubbub is over to celebrate.

    Ok, here is one of my brave stories, which isn’t really that brave but ties in with my anniversary. I met my husband while I was finishing up my last semester of college over 1000 miles away from my home. We dated for about a month and a half before I returned home and moved back in with my family. After 4 months of being apart and only hearing from him a few times and wondering if he was the man for me or just not, I decided to quit my job and find out. For the first time in my life I was going live alone far away from my family with only my best friend and her husband nearby.

    Things got off to a rough start when I broke my ankle less than a week after I got there. So I hear you when you say you are not being noble or brave. There are only two choices in a battle, surrender and look weak or fight and look brave.

    The good thing is that he stood by me during this difficult time and instead of running for the hills he proposed. We got married 13 months after we started dating. We set a goal when we were newlywed to make it to our 100th wedding anniversary because so many couples were making it to their 75th. Our minister thought it was a bad idea but I think it is all about being brave and committing to what is a real battle during difficult times in our marriage and an exciting prospect worth the work every day.

    So please keep on fighting and believing you will be the victor at the end of the war.

  11. We are honored to have you with us in the iSchool! We are here with you, and for you, in whatever way is needed. I am quite impressed with your acting ability for when I see you – even lately – you give off no sense of the depths of what you are dealing with. While this may sound a bit like you are dissembling, I believe you are actually revealing your true self – a public person who is brave when bravery is appropriate & called for, yet still able to reveal more when in a more private space – if in fact a blog can be called private. Many, many thanks for continuing to post.

  12. I’m guessing that you might, as well, be too modest to accept ‘amazing,’ David. But, I’m sending it anyway as I continue to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers. I ‘tune in’ here often for your inspiring messages.

  13. David, I’ve always found you to be an amazing speaker and writer! But I’m holding onto this post for today & the week ahead. Bravery is speaking my truth & pointing out what is & what must be done, regardless of the consequences. I now face a group of people who shun me and refuse to help me (though they are supposed to according to their official job roles, but leadership won’t take it on, instead because I’ve pointed it out & they are unwilling to step up, I’m doing my job and theirs… they don’t show up at the meetings that we have to discuss the issue and its resolution… I document all of this, but I know that neither leadership nor the union will take this on unless they try to scapegoat me and demote/fire me as the result of the project’s problems, which would be impossible for them, as I have the facts on my side as to what’s happened and why). These people don’t respond when I simply say “hello”, “good morning”, or “goodbye” as I try to do with everyone, instead they scowl. I take the high road. I’m now isolated when I go to work. Many colleagues don’t want to interact with me because they don’t want the political fallout. I won’t lie that I am, like all people, a social animal and that the very public and overt social rejection hurts. But I will not lean away from what needs to be done and said. I will be fact-based, and as non-personalized as possible, but I will not stop saying what is true. Though they have gossiped about me & controlled the narrative about who I am and what’s going on behind the scenes, apparently even making up the kind of stories about me as to lead someone to come to me privately and say they they’d heard that I was a drinker and was on pills and that they were worried about me — none of which is true. And it was so shocking and off the mark that I was caught nearly speechless – how do you respond to such rumors? But I keep it to the “just the facts” level and treat people professionally, at the least, with kindness when possible. I try never to lash back and I try to stay above gossip or complaining to those colleagues who still talk with me, because it makes their lives more difficult, feeling caught in the middle. Still, I’m not a “martyr” and though I will ensure that this project makes it to maturity despite their best efforts if it’s at all possible (& yes, leadership should be stepping in so that this thing makes it, but, well, we all know the state of leadership in the library world… some people make it to the top because they’re great politicians, that doesn’t make them leaders with the courage to take on the real issues… libraries are just like every political bureaucracy, aren’t they?), I will eventually move on if my leadership will not step up to fixing the organizational dynamics that are so toxic. In the meantime, it’s my quest for personal growth to not care too much about what others think and to keep doing what’s right no matter how unpleasant other people try to make it for me to do so. That’s my daily struggle. I know that in some ways it may not sound like much because there is no physical pain or imminent questions about life and death, but every story of someone in the ring, fighting what has to be fought, dealing with what has to be dealt with, no matter how unpleasant it is, is a story of bravery. You continue to inspire us, so I hope that we can inspire you as you move through your treatment.

  14. Yes! That brave stuff is so bizarre. When I had cancer people made me into this brave person but they also edged away from me. It was very lonely. I felt like the only person who understood me was my oncologist. And, five years later I can’t decide which was worse–the constipation and heartburn or the nausea. The biggest change cancer made in me was to give me perspective and be intensely grateful for things like the absence of constipation! it also lit a fire under my butt to seize the day–although there are many days when I sit around doing not much ’cause I just feel like it :). Peace to you. (And when you can’t find peace, take an Ativan.)

  15. You won’t remember me, but I am an iSchool grad from 2001 and stumbled upon this post totally by accident, yet there are no accidents. My sister was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1996 – and she felt many times during treatment as you feel now. She is still alive, thanks to a combination of holistic and traditional medicine. Surround yourself with beauty – art, nature, whatever makes your spirit soar. Think positive – and recuse yourself from those who think otherwise while you are fighting this battle. Laugh often, even when it is hard to. Eat organic.
    Know that you have inspired countless numbers of students who still want more from “Virtual Dave Lankes.” You WILL look back on this some day in the future as an event that will put everything you do in perspective.
    My husband lost his battle with stomach cancer the same year my sister was diagnosed. My story of bravery is having raised two sons, ages 3 and 9 alone, with very little help. I began at SU 1 1/2 years after he passed, because I HAD to have a better income and I wanted it to be doing something I loved. I got my MLS and am a school librarian, and I think a damn good one thanks to SU and following inspirational people such as you. My sons turned out great. I had my school work with me while I sat on the bleachers at the older ones sporting events. When he was a teen, I found a tee shirt he bought saying “Fuck Cancer.” I chuckle when I think of how Doug Johnson used the tee shirt slogans to teach.
    Hang in there Dave. It won’t be easy, but you can beat it.
    Mary Charters

  16. I know what you mean. I think my cancer was harder on everyone around me than it was on me. I sucked it up and said “here’s a new experience, I guess”, though in hindsight I wish I had known then the things I shared with you about fighting the effects of chemo. I wasn’t brave – I was just determined to watch the entire LOTR trilogy AND all the extended editions, so fuck you cancer and thank you Peter Jackson. My idea of brave is the student who is the first in her family to do graduate work, without the approval of said family, or who is a single mother of several children and is holding down part-time jobs. The noble students are the ones who help the stragglers and the strugglers, with no recognition. They’re the brave and noble – and it’s up to us to be the support network that we had when we had cancer.

  17. Dave, a belated happy 19th anniversary to you and Anna Maria. I remember dancing at your wedding, and I know that you and Anna Maria will have many more happy years.

    And thanks so very much Dave for sharing your experience. We are all so lucky to have you. I think of you and Anna Maria every day. While in pain and desperation, it is huge to take that one more step, one more breath, one more day – and then to give back to others, as you do.

    Love to you and your family.

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