Our Shared Humanity

Before I proceed with a medical update, here is Part 3 of the Medical Daily article about me and related philosophical musings.  This final part in the series focuses on my fundraising efforts to fund a cure for colorectal cancer:  A Shared Passion To Fund A Cure For Colon Cancer.

In my moments of self-involved fear, sadness and anger, when I know with a deep conviction that I will die from this cancer and sooner rather than later — unless I’m killed in a car accident or plane crash before then — I try to calm myself by remembering that I am but one person on a planet circling a star, along with billions of other people, in a universe that includes an untold number of planets and stars.  My one human life in its infinitesimal smallness and my experiences from that life seemingly matter little when juxtaposed against the lengthy history and hopefully lengthier future of my species and even less against the vastness of time and space,  Billions of people have come before me and billions will come after me (I hope); they too have known and will know the same joys and pains that I have known; we are linked together through the millennia by our common humanity, our shared understanding of the human experience.  Though technology may have evolved, there is something universal, fundamental and timeless in the feelings we experience as we look upon the innocence of a child or witness the agonizing death of another human being.  Yes, there is evil in this world, war and other despicable brutalities, greed, materialism, jealousy, arrogance, both past and present; such dark qualities are indelible parts of our human selves. And yet, I have faith in the overall goodness of humanity, as flawed and imperfect as we are, of our incredible potential, for we are capable of such ingenuity, intelligence, creativity, compassion, love and wisdom. Even as I fear that our darker qualities may lead us to our own self-destruction, whether through nuclear war or the erosion of our life-giving planet, I also hope fervently that we are the source of our own salvation, that somehow, together, we will find solutions to the greatest problems that plague our species.  (How ironic indeed that I can have such hope for humankind’s salvation but I cannot muster that same optimism for my own personal salvation from this disease.  I recognize my own inconsistency.) 

I’ve always been fascinated by people, by their motivations and desires, by how they live and what they eat. From the time I was eight, I was watching documentaries of anthropological studies about Amazonian tribes and telecommunication courses about cross-cultural human psychology. My fascination is why I’ve traveled the seven continents. It’s why I’m so endlessly nosy. My friends tell me I should have been a Barbara Walters, a journalist asking all the insightful and penetrating questions. Sometimes, I think I would have done well as an anthropologist living among the aborigines of Australia. Perhaps in another lifetime… Remember my encounter with the Bangladeshi woman while walking to the cancer center (which I wrote about in my last post)? I feel a deep satisfaction, a lifting of my spirits, when I meet a total stranger like her, who doesn’t speak my language and yet we are able to communicate, and I know she fears what I fear and loves what I love. It is that sense of a shared humanity, a connection with others, despite cultural, geographical and temporal differences that I have always sought and continue to seek, even more so now.

As small as my place might be amongst the billions of my species, I treasure it. When I step back to examine my little life against the immensity of time and space, I find that because of that shared humanity I care a great deal about my species, about the future of humankind, that I want to contribute to its longevity, to exemplify the goodness that I know we are all capable of, to help in finding a solution to our greatest problems. And in my opinion, one of our greatest problems is cancer, a problem that is as old as our species. I realize now that this is why I have undertaken my fundraising efforts. Beyond my own selfish desires to leave a legacy by which the world will remember me, I want to contribute in my modest way to the salvation of my species; I want to exhibit those good qualities of compassion, love and wisdom and I want to encourage others to do the same.

Thank you to all those who have already donated to my research fund and to those who have fundraised on my behalf by sharing my link with your networks.  Thank you for demonstrating the goodness of which I write and for choosing to be a part of the solution. I don’t know if I will ever reach my $1 million goal, but I certainly will at least die trying.

[I’ve had to step away from my self-involvement and to adopt a big picture perspective of late to deal with some bad medical news. My CEA rose to 12.7 as of last Thursday. That’s a 5.7 increase from the previous reading three weeks, a near doubling which is alarming. My doctor ordered scans immediately. I had a chest CT and pelvic and abdominal MRI last Friday. Both showed no change. The lung nodules remain stable. The MRI could detect that I was on my period – sorry TMI for some, I know – but it couldn’t detect disease. Absurd! So we have no idea why the CEA is rising. There are four possibilities: (1) lab error; (2) inflammation unrelated to cancer can sometimes cause spikes in CEA; (3) the death of cancer cells can also throw off CEA; and (4) there is an increase in disease that cannot be detected by the scans which is either too small or in areas that are not very scannable (like on the peritoneum). I think the cause is (4). Before we learned about the CEA spike (because CEA results can take hours), Dr. A.C. and I had already decided to increase my Xeloda dosage since I’ve been tolerating it pretty well (aside from some dark discoloration in my fingers and dryness in my hands and feet) and to introduce Celebrex. We decided that we will ride out this slightly modified regimen for a month (until after I come back from my Hawaiian vacation) and then reevaluate and potentially do another scan, maybe a PET scan which might be more informative. Some have asked about the possibility of another diagnostic laparoscopy. I don’t know. It’s not like I can just be opened up every few months to see what’s going on. At least, I don’t think that’s a prudent idea, but cam I? What do I know? Exploratory surgeries also have their limitations. An abdominal surgery would provide a view of the abdominal area and pelvis, not the lungs. The surgeon wouldn’t be able to see inside an organ in any case – only scans and ultrasounds can do that. I leave for Hawaii in less than two weeks and will be gone for 9 days. I’ve been busy planning, buying swimsuits and sunscreen lotion and toys for the kids for the long plane rides.  That and having some deep philosophical thoughts.  Much better than thinking about my CEA.]

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Katie
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 11:02:17

    As always, you have shared your gift for putting things in perspective. Thank you!

    Reply

  2. Anne Marie
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 12:53:11

    Sunscreen and swimsuits over CEA sounds like a good plan for a few days! (And I’m voting for #1-3 over 4 as reasons for the lab results, too.) As for the rest of your post, you put things in perspective so well, Julie. Also, the comment about Barbara Walters made me laugh – I still remember how you never beat around the bush when communicating in college. It was and continues to be a wonderful and refreshing thing.

    Reply

    • julielyyip
      Mar 06, 2015 @ 14:15:37

      Anne Marie, thanks for your comment. I always felt that you and I shared the same love and fascination for humanity. Part of it was because we were both history majors, but in any case, I appreciated this greatly about our friendship.

      Reply

  3. Paul Edelstein
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 12:56:17

    Hawaii! Hawaii Hawaii

    Reply

  4. Tyler
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 13:44:23

    Have a wonderful trip with the family. Nothing like beach lounging and fun food to build memories.

    Reply

  5. Lpas
    Mar 07, 2015 @ 00:01:59

    Julie,

    I found your blog through ColonTalk and have been meaning for a while to leave a comment and let you know how much I enjoy it. Well, maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word. Appreciate? I look forward to reading your posts even though I find it difficult because they hit so close to home. Even though I’m a bit older than you, our little ones are close to the same age.

    When it comes to cancer, I’ve discovered I’m more of a pessimist than an optimist. Seems like every time I’ve assumed the worst thus far, it’s ended up coming true, starting with my initial colonoscopy when the GI assured me that my mass was probably only Stage I. As it turns out I’m a Stage IIIB with just about every nasty mutation and negative prognostic indicator in the book. Keeping all that in mind, I’m with you in fearing explanation #4 for the CEA rise. I worry a lot about those sneaky peritoneal mets. Although I agree that it seems impractical to do an exploratory surgery with every CEA rise, I still think I’d consider another lap if the upward trend continues. Get ’em out early while they’re small and operable, right? That said, I really, really, hope it’s explanation #3 instead!

    Could say a lot more but for now I’ll leave it at that. I hope you have a fabulous trip with your beautiful family. Hawaii is one of my favorite places in the world.

    –Another Julie

    Reply

  6. Domitilla
    Mar 08, 2015 @ 11:36:06

    Maybe I didn’t tell you jet I had a colon carcinoma in situ, operated by colonscopy in December 2013 and totally removed. I had no symptoms but late bleeding and a vague belly ache. I’ m not a smoker, not a drinker, had no colon cancer family history. Just a bit overweighted. I was very lucky to have my cancer detected at an early stage and removed as it still was being an in situ carcinoma. Nevertheless it was a totally shocking event which changed my personal views of life and its priorities. “Thanks” to my cancer I decided to marry, retire and move from Rome to Northern Italy, near the Dolomites. And “thanks” to my cancer I came across you, just while googling “colon cancer” in the Internet, which I consider a honor and a great inspiration. If it wasn’t for my cancer I doubt I would meet someone as special as you. So, as weird as it may sound, I owe much to my cancer. Later this month I’ll have my routine follow up colonoscopy. Before praying God and asking Him to be merciful once again to me, I know I’ll think of you. You mean so much for me and millions of people in the world who are facing the same beast. I’d love to meet you in person sometime in the future to hug you and thank you for fighting. And winning. ❤️

    Reply

  7. Julia
    Mar 11, 2015 @ 02:12:25

    Hi Julie, please check this out, it’s in the papers today in Vancouver, BC Canada:

    http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Humble+heart+pill+beats+back+near+fatal+cancer/10875649/story.html

    Hugs to you

    Reply

  8. The Astonishing FartMan
    Mar 13, 2015 @ 15:10:16

    Haven’t commented in a while. (You know I can’t compose a comment unless I have time to write a book.) But wanted to let you know I’m still reading your beautiful writing and keeping up with how things are going for you.

    I’ll just say:

    Yes, it is a tricky business making the effort to reconcile oneself with one’s mortality. Healthy people (or, I should say, people who think they are healthy), have an easier time avoiding the effort. But it’s worth the effort, even if, ultimately, one can only get so far philosophizing using the meager intellectual tools and insights we humans have at our command. When reason and knowledge go as far as they can, then there’s love and faith. Faith is what we can’t prove and can’t know, but can still reasonably believe. I have no patience with people who claim they will only believe in things that can be proven with certainty. They don’t understand the difference between knowledge and belief. They don’t understand how much of human life is necessarily based upon belief. Belief and faith are not just good, they are also necessary.Without belief, we couldn’t exist.

    I do “believe” the human soul is immortal. I don’t know it, and can’t prove it, but I reasonably believe it. Still, that belief still leaves me with the question about how much of my attention should I give to thinking about and dealing with the things of this life and how much attention should I spend thinking about and preparing for the next life. Can those two efforts be reconciled and harmonized? For example, how much sense does it make to try to leave behind a “legacy”? It is a natural human desire to have some evidence of one’s existence to survive one’s own life. Some of that desire is selfish and some of it is generous. For example, the desire to have children and to raise them well is a manifestation of the generous impulse that impels us all to seek a form of earthly immortality by leaving something good that survives us. The desire to create art or to write can be similarly generous. The desire to create a philanthropic foundation is generous. The desire to have it named after oneself is perhaps less generous. The desire to make a great name for oneself by conquering nations is definitely not generous, but is one of the strongest forces driving human history.

    We all do want something of ourselves to continue on after us in this life. And we all do want something of ourselves to carry on to “the other side.” How much of “me” should I want to remain here on earth, and how much of “me” should I want to cross over to the other side? Now that is an interesting question.

    Reply

  9. The Astonishing FartMan
    Apr 01, 2015 @ 23:49:56

    Just checking in. I visit your blog almost every day, selfishly wanting more, more, more of your beautiful writing, I hope you are doing okay, that your Hawaii vacation was lovely and memorable and not too stressful, and that nobody threw up on the airplane. You probably have lots of things going on these days. I remember when I was really sick, it was like cancer was my crappy second job, like a part-time job that turned into a full-time job. It seems people expect even more of you, need even more of you, and want even more from you than before you got sick. (Fatigue! Now there’s a fine word, the meaning of which cannot be appreciated until a person has had cancer and been on chemo for a while.) So I’ll just say: Write us something when you get a chance, but only if you feel like it.

    Reply

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