Monthly Archives: January 2016

How Alan Rickman Got Me Through Chemo

Alan Rickman cancer

“You ask too much of me.” Severus Snape

I swear it wasn’t a crush, although I’ll admit, Alan Rickman is easy on the eyes, even at nearly 70.

No, it was something he said. More accurately, something his character Severus Snape said that resonated with me as I watched the entire anthology of Harry Potter movies that I’d somehow collected while going through chemo.

I’m not quite sure what it is about a cancer diagnosis that makes children’s movies so appealing. I noticed it when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, how he went from a Die Hard diehard to someone who preferred the Disney channel in his final days. And it wasn’t even as if he knew they were his final days.

Later, when I was struggling through chemo and the heaviness of dealing with just getting through one day without jumping in front of a moving train (I think the only thing that kept me from it was that I just didn’t have the energy to move) I understood my father’s new addiciton – or fascination – or appreciation for those simplistic movies.

While his were Narina and Polar Bear Express, mine became the Harry Potter franchise.  It was one of the final scenes in the Half-Blood Prince – which set the stage for how the entire series would end – that got me. Dumbledorf was counseling Snape in some hushed conversation, to which Snape replied: “You ask too much of me.”

In that moment, I knew exactly what he meant. I had a kindred spirit out there, even if he only lived in some childhood fantasy tale.

That line echoed in my mind throughout the rest of my treatment, along with the image of Snape, my cohort, an anti-hero who knew my pain. When things got dark, I would look to his character for strength – a man on a mission, willing to go it alone, whose friends and family couldn’t understand why or what he was going through. A quest that asked too much of him.

It’s silly, I know. And the end of the series troubled me (so much so, that I’ve re-written it hundreds of times in my mind so that Snape doesn’t actually die, but is saved by the phoenix, much like Harry Potter was in The Sorcerer’s Stone. It was difficult enough to fight for my own life. I wasn’t able to sacrifice my confidante’s.)

Rickman’s death, like David Bowie’s, caught me off guard, particularly since we share the same disease.   I’ve learned, though, that in the end, we write our own stories, just as I re-wrote the saga of the Harry Potter character I became so endeared to who helped me heal (and kept me from jumping in front of moving trains).

Perhaps now is a good time to ask myself: How does my story end? And then, work backwards from there.


Time may change me, but I can’t waste time

David Bowie

David Bowie
Jan. 8, 1947 –Jan. 10, 2016

When you hear someone’s died of cancer and you have cancer, you can’t help but look to adjust your watch. What kind of cancer, you want to know. How long was the battle? And how does that bode for you? Of course, your doctor will tell you each story is different, each patient different, each cancer different. You know that. Yet it still doesn’t keep you from being part of a club and you want to know how the members are doing it, getting by.
Yesterday, David Bowie died of cancer, likely lung cancer. As I recall, he was a smoker and 1 in 3 smokers will get cancer and most will die from it. It tends to be a fast growing cancer in a body that likely has been both healthy and willing to suffer hardship for a long time. It doesn’t know to yell “fire” or for help, which means by the time it’s discovered, it’s too late to do much about it.
The truth is, that’s the problem for most cancers. They grow inside you, side by side for so long, your cells believe they’re friends, neighbors who will bring you casseroles when you’re down and out. It’s not until it’s too late you discover they’re terrorists, suicide bombers, aiming to destabilize you to the core.
As I write this I battle a head cold, drinking a tea of ginger, lemon and honey that my neighbor turned me onto. A friend who makes me casseroles when I’m sick. And this sickness is one I’m sure I’ll heal from, as well as many others. Like my neighbor, it’s real. It makes itself known and offers little resistance to my attempts to fight it.
David Bowie’s death slams me hard. He was an icon, one I believed was invincible, from a part of my life when I believed I was invincible, as were those around me. My sister and I used to sing our hearts out to the song “Changes.” It was our teenage anthem: “We’re immune to your consultations. We’re quite aware of what we’re going through.”
Now, after all these changes, my sister and father taken by this disease, and me living side-by-side with it for the rest of my life, I’m neither immune nor really aware of what I’m going through until I’m actually through it and the bodies are lying around me and I find myself checking my watch.
I pulled the song and lyrics up to “Changes” on YouTube when I heard of Bowie’s death. The chorus is “Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”
Funny, I had a different take on it. “Time may change me. But I can’t waste time.”

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