The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


April 3, 2013

Cancer As a Non-Tragedy: How Far Can a Positive Attitude Go?

WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago, I took my mom shopping for a refrigerator to replace the one that had been in the kitchen since the Nixon administration. Pleasantries with the salesman took a more somber turn when he revealed that his wife has breast cancer and is seeking to heal herself solely through the power of prayer. My mom listened attentively, then touched the salesman on the chest and said, authoritatively, "Carrot juice! And blueberries!"

She is a believer in the restorative powers of fruits and vegetables, and of wholesome living more generally. She doesn't reject modern medicine, nor would she seek a miracle cure through prayer or New Age therapies. But she is not someone terribly interested in medicine, or technology in general, preferring to exist in a world that is like the one she grew up in — simple, natural, earthy. She has spent her years outdoors, growing plants, doing landscaping, surrounding herself with flowers. She has often ended the day with a cold beer under the grape arbor in her back yard. The yard is a two-acre botanical wonder where she and my stepfather, Jim, have their nursery, plus a robust garden, productive citrus trees and winding footpaths among native plants and towering trees.

I called to check on her the other day. After quickly assuring me she was fine, she launched into a prescription for how I might reduce some minor leg pain that's been bothering me: "Point one foot at the North Pole and one foot at the South Pole and bend over and touch the floor," she said.

Though full of medical advice for others, she doesn't talk much about her own illness, and it didn't seem to occur to her to tell the appliance salesman that she, too, has breast cancer, stage 3. Here's the key fact about my mom: She doesn't consider herself sick.

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