Friday, September 8, 2006

Why Me? Why Them?

I never asked myself, “Why me?” after I was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t know if it was because I had so much else to think about, but the question just didn’t come up. Much later, people asked me if I asked myself “Why me?” But instead, I found myself asking, “Why not me?” I’m in a low risk category for breast cancer, and there’s no history in my family (I’ve read only 20% of cancers are genetic anyway), so I had every reason to ask why this was happening to me. But it just seemed an irrelevant question.

Once in a while, I learn of someone’s death -- someone who makes people around him happy and contributes something valuable to his community or society at large -- and I start to think, “Why him?” And then I think of other people who contribute nothing but misery to the world around them and think these people should die instead.

When I was in my twenties, I heard about a man at the local church who had died of cancer, leaving behind a wife and two very young children. I was single and childless at the time, working as a journalist but not the kind of journalism that makes a difference in anyone’s life. And I found myself thinking that if I could trade places with this man, I might do it. I didn’t have anyone who needed me as much as this man’s wife and kids needed him. Sure, I had family and friends who’d cry a lot and miss me, but that’s different from having kids who need a parent or a spouse who needs a partner in life.

Now that I have cancer myself and I have two young kids, if someone offered to trade places with me, I might accept. Sounds terrible, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to actually let someone else die in my place, but I think I should do it for my kids.

If I were single with no kids, I think I’d be more willing to die. I’ve had a pretty good life. I’ve been very lucky, and I can say I’ve had my fair share of happiness and accept that I should exit the stage now.

But having two young kids changes everything. I need to stay alive long enough for them to know their mother. Even if it’s just in their memories, they need to have a mother. And I need enough time to make those memories. They shouldn’t have to grow up without their mom. So back to the original question... not “Why me?” but “Why them?”

[I sent this comment to Leroy Sievers, who is keeping a Blog on his cancer on the NPR (National Public Radio) Web site.]

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