The Loss of Hope

The topic of todays sermon is “hope.”

The audience for said sermon is me.

You see I woke up this morning with good news. My white blood count had climbed from 0.1 to 0.3. This is the first concrete sign that my stem cell transplant is working. My sores should start to heal, my pains subside. Good news. My wife was ecstatic, my kids did a happy dance video. I, on other hand, got depressed.

You see my life for the past two years have been full of false starts and promising milestones. I am declared seizure free, and two weeks later I am in the hospital with dangerously low platelets. This, in turn, lead to a cancer diagnosis, so into chemotherapy I went -a chemo with a nearly 90% cure rate. As July rolled around we all celebrated the end of chemo, and a seemingly clean PET Scan. Three months later after another PET scan, another biopsy showing that the lymphoma had not gone.

And so I now sit here, in the bone marrow transplant wing of the hospital, at the end of 3 months of lethal chemotherapy and stem cell collection, after 16 days of the systematic destruction of my digestive system, and there is hope? How can I hope again? How can I convince myself one more time, that THIS time, THIS treatment, THIS procedure will be the one? When does optimism simply dissolve into deliberate ignorance?

Many have called me brave, or inspirational in my fight with cancer. There is nothing brave about battling cancer. The alternative to the battle takes the decision away. Chemo or death? Easy choice. Chance to live 5 to 40 more years…yes how brave of me to chose that.

Then I think about my new life, the one we celebrate the day the stem cell are injected into my chest, February 24th. What will this life be? Should I return to my former ways? Grants, speeches, projects, advisees? Should I recommit to changing the world? This work involves more than me. It involves commitments of others, others that I have, over the past two years, let down…a missed meeting, a failed project, dropping of commitments. Can I change the world and avoid that? Is it time to become the tenured full professor who teaches his class, writes his book, and disappears into the ivory tower?

Haven’t I earned that? Don’t I deserved to be selfish and live every day just for itself, with my only effort to change the world through my wife and kids? Isn’t that enough.


Who among us is promised a full day on this earth? Who among us is free from the threats of disease, or violence, or stress or poverty? How many people do I know that every day fight to pay the bills, who may go hungry? How many of the “lucky people” I walk by without cancer are fighting their own demons of drugs, or discrimination? Retreat to the Ivory Tower?!? Talk about a privilege problem. How many people would be happy with any job? How many people would long for a roof over their head? It must have been tough going through this medical procedure….with health care!

I had cancer and it might come back, and you may lose your job, and he may have a heart attack, and she may lose her child. We cannot live life cataloging potential disasters and saying “at least that didn’t happen to me” ignoring that it happened to others. That is not living, that is hiding, and the only greater sin is believing that you have no part to play in the alleviation of other people’s pain.

You see, that’s the thing about hope – it is not a guarantee or a promise. It is a prayer, and desire, and it lies at the core of making this world a better place. We fight inequity, poverty, corruption because we hope for a better day. We teach because we hope we can impart some idea that will blossom into a better world for all. We raise children in hopes of a better future. We marry because we hope we can live up to the promise of our spouses. We work either out of the hope that our efforts will improve the world, or at least the wages of our labor can provide a better world for us.

I have made a career of calling people to service. In the classroom, on the web, on stages around the world I have tried to equip an army of the hopeful to improve society. I never made a promise to that legion that our cause was guaranteed, or easy, or simple. But I did try and give hope. That hope continues with or without my cancer, or my very life. But while I have the ability to put towards to it, I will do so with hope.

Today my white blood count went from 0.1 to 0.3. The doctors and nurses are hopeful that my levels will continue to rise to the point I can go home next week. They can’t promise it, but they can hope for it. I hope they’re right, because I have a lot of work to do.

22 Replies to “The Loss of Hope”

  1. David, I am glad that you don’t have a magic video camera hooked up to these blog posts. I look so damn bad when I cry, so I don’t do it often. So I’m going to say it – I love you for just being you and for everything you do to make the lives of others better. I can’t imagine you stopping your charge, sir! But if you do decide to sit around in the ivory tower for a bit, that is just fine. (You’ll get bored.) Many hugs, Sarah

  2. As a friend and colleague, I can tell you that no one, no one, has ever felt let down by any contact with you. You ooze a positive attitude and an imperative to make a difference in the world in everything you say and do. I know that you have no idea of the ripples of hope that you have started throughout the world, but they are extensive. You’ve practically started a tidal wave.

  3. I think you are so inspirational. I have just finished reading your book ‘Expect More’. Thanks ever so much for your incite into Librarianship and just reading your piece on here I too hope you do get to go home and I hope you don’t do too much even though you say you have heaps to do. Just take it easy especially for what you have gone through. From New Zealand — (I listened to you also on Library 2.0).

  4. This actually made me cry, and let me tell you that doesn’t happen too often. “[hope] lies at the core of making this world a better place.”

  5. My wife spiked a fever the night before she was to receive the chemo precedent to her stem cell transplant last month (different kind of lymphoma). We’re six hours from the transplant hospital. She goes back Monday for a second try. I’m tired, and I wish things were different. I ask myself “Who the fuck do you think you are?” every time i catch myself whining to myself about how difficult this is for me. I don’t carry her pain, I don’t carry her exhaustion, I don’t carry her concern about being around to raise her kids. I empathize, but I don’t own it. Who the fuck DO I think I am?

    1. You are her caregiver, an impossible position. You are the most important person for her health. You unfortunately are often the cheerleader in chief that has to try and bolster the spirits of your wife and all of your friends and acquaintances. When my cancer returned, my wife had to turn off her cell phone because of the number of people calling to wish us well. “All they do is remind me of what I don’t want to be reminded of, and I end up having to make them feel better.”

      You are the caregiver. You are important. Don’t forget that this is a path you take together.

  6. David, in response to your questions: “Haven’t I earned that? Don’t I deserved to be selfish and live every day just for itself, with my only effort to change the world through my wife and kids? Isn’t that enough….”

    I am reminded of a quote by Mother Theresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

    YOU choose for yourself EVERY DAY how you are going to change the world, and how you define success. It’s not an either/or, right or wrong, black or white kind of distinction…rather a stunning mosaic of all the differences you’ve made throughout your life…in your profession, your family, the many communities you are a part of.

    Clearly, you have been given the gift to inspire hope and service in others, and we’re so much the richer for having your gifts at work in the world. You can’t help but inspire others, whether they’re in a cancer ward, in your backyard, or in your ivory tower!. Be content to be yourself, and know that it is more than enough. May hope be with you for all of your days.

  7. David, you have always inspired us to be good librarians. Now, you inspire us to be good people. And you … you give us hope just by your presence in our world. We love you and hope along with you.

  8. Pish posh a lot of work to do. You need to live. Period. That is accomplishment enough. You need not solve the problems of the world. Just breathe.

  9. I’ve read about your medical journey for the past few years. In the past year, I’ve gained a more personal knowledge of how much cancer steals from your life. I’ve got two immediate family members involved in their own cancer battles. I still think it takes courage to live despite the alternative. Cancer is a mean, sneaky thief.
    But hope is so important. Thank you for this post. I’ve been afraid to talk about the future with them. Now, I’m not. We’ll make plans and keep on hoping treatment will work. After all, every day they live is a day they’ve taken back from cancer.
    Thank you for being honest about your battle. Thank you for sharing with us.

  10. Just live, Dave. That’s what cancer taught me…just live. And what you do when you just live can be even more amazing than what you have already done. Cheering for you everyday!

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