Re: The Darker Side

September 30, 2001, Memorial Hospital

Dear Phil,

Your words are beautiful and inspirational. I can't help but ask, as I am a far more ambivalent and perhaps pessimistic soul than you, is there a darker side to your experience you don't let us see? --Frank F.

Dear Frank--

Your question is a good one. In part, it cuts to the point of this online journal. As I said in deciding to go public with my cancer (June 17), I write these entries "in hopes that my story might give comfort and inspiration to others." So by the terms of my mission, I'm not going to dwell on the negative. I don't want to subject the reader to rants that, while they may be cathartic to me, don't resonate in the larger world. I want to send out positive energy.

Your question is vague enough that there are several ways I can answer:

--- If you're asking, am I deliberately hiding aspects of my experience?, the answer is no. Obviously, I don't write about everything. There have been plenty of "dark" moments during treatment when I've felt up against the wall, but I never felt compelled to write about those. It takes so much focus and energy to deal with treatment that whatever I write has to come out of me almost as if by birth. Otherwise the writing takes too much effort. I don't post according to any schedule. If I post, it's because I feel like it.

--- If you're asking, have I experienced a crisis of faith because of cancer?, the answer is no. On the contrary, dealing with a life-threatening illness has deepened the teachings of zen for me. My faith is stronger from cancer, not weaker.

--- If you're asking, do I sometimes have ambivalent feelings about wanting to go on?, the answer again is no. As I've said many times, I'm extremely lucky. I have a loving wife, three great kids, and a supportive family--they give me tremendous motivation to grind through the tough times. Without a person or a cause to live for, I might be more inclined to think, "What's the point?" Then again, sometimes a crisis like this can make people realize what's really important in life and crystalize in their minds a reason to go on.

--- If you're asking, am I sometimes pessimistic about my chances?, that's something I wrestle with on occasion, but by and large, I avoid thinking about my odds of survival. I don't want to know the percentages; they don't matter to me. Whether the doctors say I have a 5 percent or 50 percent chance of survival, I have to be in the group that survives. That's the way I have to think.

I hope I've answered your question. I do believe there is a darker side to this experience, for in yin-yang thinking, there cannot be a brighter side without a darker side. As in all things yin and yang, we find our way through balancing the two. For me, the balancing leans toward the light. That's why I've gone public with my cancer--to be out in the open.

There is plenty of time for darkness later.