Sunday, August 30, 2009

Life and death

Death and life: few topics fail to command attention like these two do, and I feel like I have had every gram of compassion, pathos and empathy weighed against the words of this amazing biography. I finished this book this morning, tears leaking from my eyes and a gut-full of emotion, carried into the worlds of two extraordinary individuals by journalist/author, Susan Wyndam. Charlie Teo is a controversial neorosurgeon, caring for his talented patient ,concert pianist Aaron McMillan who is diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a cricket ball while in his early 20's. The biography traces MsMillan's career (as well as his surgeries, relapses and recoveries) in parallel with Teo's.  I could write a  book review, and found myself just starting to do so (I guess its a style of writing Im familar with) but I think Ill leave that to others who have read the book before me.
What moved me is the dilemma this book leaves you with. If you knew you had a malignant tumour, and that a radical operation could possibly take it out, and prolong your life for a few years-maybe-would you do it? Would knowing that the operation might kill you, or disable you change your mind? How about knowing that there is pretty much nothing you can do about the secondary cancers that would be in your blood stream at the time of operating might lie dormant for a few weeks/months/years just waiting to lodge somewhere and have another go at killing you?

And I realised my tears were for G.  My cousin G (far right) was diagnosed with a brain tumor abour 3 years ago now, and he battled it with a combination of surgery and chemo for about 2 years, with times of remission and hope, and relapses and further hope for recovery once more. How he managed to wake up every morning and continue fighting the cancer in hs system amazes me. I visited him in hospital a week before he died, and held his hand, and we talked about being children together: of playing at the beach, games that never ended, conversations that kept us awake through the night about who we might be when we group up. Bitter thoughts of the deep unfairness of the disease plagued me. Why him?
While the book tends to make heroes out of its central players, there are so many ordinary folk, facing this extraordinary ordeal and the tough decisions fighting cancer brings.

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