No greater challenge

The US Marine Corps War Memorial at sunset, April 2012

The US Marine Corps War Memorial at sunset, April 2012

“There is no greater challenge to statesmanship than to find a way that such sacrifices as this statue represents are not necessary in the future.”
Richard M. Nixon, referring to the U. S. Marine Corps War Memorial

Anyone who has been through cancer treatment knows that war is a very good metaphor for the trauma inflicted in the name of achieving a higher goal.  As with war, such treatments often leave us wondering whether the end could possibly justify the means.  For those who survive, or are born to inherit the positive outcomes of such sacrifice, the answer may seem more obvious than it does for those who suffer and die.

The War Memorial pictured above is an iconic reminder of a battle that encompassed many common threads with the war waged within the body of a stage IV cancer survivor.   Not everyone realizes the assault on the island of Iwo Jima actually began nine months before the famed amphibious landing, with bombardments intended to lessen the carnage that would take place in confronting an enemy that had vowed to fight to the death.  Even with such extensive preparation, the bloodshed was just beginning.  Marines who feared the eerie silence that greeted them might indicate their enemy was only hiding, not defeated, would soon find out their fears were more than justified.

Likewise, the insidious dangers of metastatic cancer infiltrate the body, resisting the aggressive bombardment of chemotherapy, radiation and surgical resection.  Doctors and patients fight on, amid predictions of doom and endless second-guessing, using the only tools at hand to destroy an ever-elusive threat.  For those who choose to fight on and not give up, no small part of the rationale surely lies in the greater challenge identified by President Nixon: the hope that these relentless and tenacious battles may ultimately render such sacrifices unnecessary for future generations. For 21st century medicine, there is no greater challenge.

One year ago today:

No pessimist


  1. re: “Not everyone realizes. . .”, Iwo Jima, as an objective, was only to establish a support airfield for the massive B-29 bombing of Japan. (Sometimes, over 300 Strato-Fortresses filled the skies over Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and other helpless cities, dropping incendiary bombs.) Then, if an emergency landing was necessary on the return flight to the Northern Mariana Islands, an airfield on Iwo Jima had been secured.
    If you were one of the relatively few crew members availed this emergency landing opportunity, would you not have asked the ominous question:
    “At what cost!?!”

    • At what cost indeed. Many are asking that question about Iwo Jima to this day. I hope we will not be doing the same about Jeff. He is headed back to surgery as soon as they can make a spot for him today; they have to deal with infection and re-place the wound vac. Jeff’s primary liver surgeon was flown into Texas unexpectedly this morning to handle a liver transplant (he was here in this room late yesterday evening so I don’t even want to think about how tired he must be), but we’re grateful the assisting surgeon is still here in town and will handle this third trip into surgery (just as in May, perhaps three times will be all that will be needed?). Prayers appreciated!

  2. Beautiful silhouette!
    Keep on fighting no matter how tough the enemy is. We are all there with our prayers which are mightier than any weapon.

    • Thank you Bindu, I very much need to hear and feel that might this morning! I so appreciate your presence with us here, reaching us from literally halfway around the globe.

  3. beautiful post, amiga, and oh so wise.

    sending love and strength, lisa


    • Thank you Lisa. Your love and strength are needed, felt and appreciated here!

  4. Carolyn

    Jeff is one of our survivors, fight on friend, you are going to win the battle. I will fight also. Love and hugs to all.

    • Thanks Carolyn, your words are an encouragement to us as we wait for Jeff to be taken back into surgery. I read him some of the comments and I think he felt encouraged by them.

  5. A poignant parallel, beautifully expressed.

    • Thank you, Tony. I appreciate your being with us here.

  6. MaryAnn

    sending our love to you & Jeff, as you continue the fight…prayers ongoing…

    • Thank you, Mary Ann, for the love and prayers you’ve been sending us for 14 years now! Wow, has it really been that long?

  7. What Jeff has endured is unthinkable, Julia. What’s more, it is as difficult – in a very different way – for the unsung hero, the healthier partner. You have had to accommodate him and sacrifice so much yourself. You have been fighting together. It’d be great if you can let me know that you got the latest purple potato post from the food blog. Oddly, not all my readers got the post just before that. I hope you can secure the book by Paul P I recommend on that site. It will help you tremendously to prepare Jeff’s food – ones that dry dampness (amaranth, celery). And if somehow you even manage the look, I have a strong suspicion you will take to my latest post on the book I wrote about on the Journey blog, that is). Either way…

    All my love,

    • Hi Diana, thanks so much for the cue about your blog. I am so woefully behind in my blog reader that I have no idea whether it appeared there – but I did go back to your food blog and the purple potato post was there — Until then I did not even know there was such a thing; very interesting! I also read (or re-read) your story about your journey from childhood sugar cravings to adult consequences and eventually, a better diet. Wow, I really need to read it often myself, as I’m a true sweet tooth. In fact, in the hospital I’ve been living on mostly coffee spiked with sweetened chocolate milk! (Hey, it’s about the only thing that’s freely available 24/7 right across the hall from Jeff’s room.) After reading your post I felt totally turned off to sugar, partly because my junky diet here has me craving some real food. I have taken small steps away from sugar over the past few years, such as always mixing my flavored greek yogurt at least 1:1 with regular unflavored – but I’m a long ways from ditching ice cream! Still, I did find for the first time this morning that I actually ENJOYED drinking my coffee with NO sugar. I’m more of a tea person but here where I don’t get much sleep I’m surviving on caffeine (temporarily) and coffee packs a better punch. It’s a perfect time for me to read your testimonial about the dangers of a junky diet. Hope we can return to something resembling normalcy soon, though it’s likely there will have to be some big dietary adjustments for at least the short term. Hope all is well in your world – thanks for checking in with us here and YES, I had a quick glance at your latest posts at HW and look forward to reading them! 🙂

      • Thanks for taking the time, both on the blogs and in getting back to me. I really appreciate the update as well as the feedback on how the sugar info helped ya. Sugar is poison, pure and simple. And yes, when we educate ourselves, our brain sees it differently – for what it is. I’ll let you go. There are no words for what you’ve borne. Remember, your wearing yourself down will help no one. Please be good to yourself. Love, Diana

        PS – ice cream is the LAST thing Jeff should ever go near. I’m probably the only one who’ll tell you straight out. Will make him even more damp, inviting the pathogens to party.

        • Yes, lots of people have told us “sugar feeds cancer” and more than one research study I’ve read about appears to confirm that. If I ruled the world, I would give a huge Nobel Prize to whoever could somehow make sweet things good for us! But the consolation is that lots of healthy foods are delicious, especially once you get used to them. As with so many other things, Mom turned out to be right about this one! 🙂

          • Meat and dairy, too, feed cancer. I assumed you guys knew that.

            • I know there are many who think a strict vegan diet is healthier, and certainly almost everyone agrees that the typical American diet has had far too much red meat. We don’t eat much meat in our family so it’s not a big deal to us either way. Not so with dairy – we love it! As hard as it is for me to give up sugar, dairy would be even harder, though I did have to cut way back on it due to lactose intolerance. Although Matt gets little to no dairy, he has developed a mild level of allergic reaction to soy now, probably due to getting so much of it over the years. So sometimes it seems we can’t win. I’ve seen dairy products frequently mentioned in connection with some cancers (such as breast cancer) although I’ve never seen any statements such as this one from the National Cancer Institute that so directly explains a causative (as opposed to correlative) link:

              “Cancer cells are believed to use much more glucose than normal cells because, in addition to using it for energy production, cancer cells can use the products of glucose metabolism to detoxify reactive oxygen species. Researchers are exploring ways that this difference in cellular metabolism between cancer cells and normal cells might be exploited to selectively kill cancer cells.

              Carbohydrates in the diet provide a readily available supply of glucose that can be used to fuel cancer cell growth. Therefore, one method being investigated is the use of a specialized diet that dramatically reduces the amount of glucose in the blood, called a ketogenic diet. This type of diet has been used for decades to help children and young adults with treatment-resistant epilepsy that causes grand mal seizures…”

              So it seems that sugar is the major culprit to go after in improving my own diet. I did not realize the connection between glucose and treatment-resistant seizures. Years ago a friend of my mother’s said that he believed we would live to see the day when refined carbohydrates (white sugar and flour) are illegal. In any case, I’m glad that even traditional strongholds of orthodox medicine (such as the NIH) are acknowledging and exploring the dietary links. I thought it was quite revealing that you mentioned none of the physicians you saw during your health difficulties even bothered to ask about your diet. Kind of shocking, really. It seems like the obvious first line of inquiry to me.

              • I knew you’d be on your intelligent way. =)
                There’s a whole spiritual element to food, which is what I gently touch on in the food blog. Food (rather, nonfoods!) is/are such a stronghold in our spirit. If we considered what health is, how marvelously we are made, what our body does with what we extract from what we eat (both good and bad), what that energy does to our mind, flesh, bloodstream, organs, and spirit, we would embrace more readily food that offers vitality and life. Awesome talking with you. Take good care of yourself. I know you’ve done plenty for Jeff.

      • PPS: Whole Fds and Sprouts carry the purple down here. And I thought the slave narrative was right up your alley. 😉

        • Yes, it looks fascinating. Years go I got a book about Phyllis Wheatley that I still have never gotten around to reading. These women who managed to write under such adversity leave some of us feeling rather sheepish about the excuses we use for not writing :-).

          • Yes – Hannah wrote way before Phyllis.

          • I meant the fact that we have uncovered a female slave writer who did her beautiful thing so far in advance of the now well-known Phyllis is partly why Bond’s work is so exciting.

            • Yes, it is. It’s interesting to wonder how many others there may have been that we don’t know about.

              • Gates: If this book exists, if ‘Our Nig’ exists, then other things exist. It’s just the way it has to be. They keep finding Mayan cities and tombs of pharaohs. They’ve got to find more manuscripts from black people in the 19th century. I’m confident of it. It’s just the way it has to be.

                • That’s why I love history. In a way, it’s just as much a frontier as the future, in terms of unlimited potential for discovery. Close to home here in Colonial Williamsburg, there have been some interesting recent discoveries about how the enslaved residents lived. I think Gates is right: there is undoubtedly more to be uncovered.

                  • Well put, Julia. Frontier…future.

                    • Or as my Daddy likes to say, “the past, present and future co-exist.”

  8. sam

    Continued prayers for strength . May God grant His peace and comfort and bring healing to Jeff . May God wrap his arms of comfort around you.

    • Thank you sam, your words and prayers are a comfort to us. Jeff is sleeping peacefully and seems to be doing much better.

  9. Sheila

    Julia and Jeff, stand strong, you will be the winners! My thoughts are so often of you, what’s happening at any given time, and hoping that situations have settled down. I am with you, in thoughts and prayers! Love, Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, thanks so much for staying with us in thought and prayer – it really does mean a lot. Jeff is much better today so I am too! Matt and I plan to get a LOT of sleep tonight over at Fisher House! 🙂

  10. Larry

    Fighting takes new ideas to the stamina that must be required and strength needed to conquer. Joe Lewis was once asked about how he could hit so hard. His answer was when he aimed to hit someone he wasn’t aiming for the face, he was aiming for the back of the head. The strength Jeff has is just akin to Joe Lewis, he obviously has an aim beyond and the power to succeed!

    • Larry, Jeff is truly amazing. Even today he looks and sounds much better than some people do on a “normal” day. I have been so happy that he has mostly kept his spirits up. He has his moments of being discouraged but his care team (surgeons, nurses, Red Cross volunteers dropping by with helpful goodies) are really good at keeping morale up. Here on the Wounded Warrior floor, it’s a way of life. People who are unacquainted with military might find it surprising they way they are trained to “press on” under all circumstances. Joe Lewis obviously understood the power of the mind to influence the body.

  11. raynard

    Julia , you are a wise lady. Keep me in mind when your book..( Hope I dont have to wait as your “booktour bus passes by in the background on the set of Good Morning America”.. Be blessed..

    • Raynard, don’t hold your breath on that bus tour, nobody is lined up outside trying to sign me up. Besides, who needs GMA when I have Good Morning Planet Earth here in cyberspace every day!? 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement and blessings to you too!

  12. Michael

    We have a hummingbird emergency here in Seattle as it is 25 degrees out and our feeders all froze. Hopefully they can survive this cold snap. We should have let them fly south, but decided to hold them close.

    • Wow, that is sad. I hope they will be OK. My sister has a hummingbird feeder and I love to watch them there. Her son got an amazing photo of one. I got a hummingbird feeder over two years ago but in typical fashion, have not yet mixed up any nectar or hung it outside. (See volume 462 of Julia’s Exhaustive Encyclopedia of Good Intentions.)

  13. I love the back lighting by the good ol’ sunshine in your photo Julia and the airline streak is really good timing too.

    It’s unfathomable how the human body can begin to recover from all the invasiveness of the decease, the surgeries and the treatments. I’m so hopeful all of it will soon be left behind and you both will have a new story to tell. One similar to what veterans who where able to come home might tell. of a battle once fought but won, a VICTORY!

    • Yes, I continue to hope and believe that will be our destination. Thanks for hoping and believing with me! I remember so long ago – can you believe it’s been almost a year now? When you mailed me the lovely handmade “Boom Box” of crafty goodies. It arrived on a really hard and dreary and weary day, and as I was going through the box ooohing and aahhhing over all the pretty little things, I was feeling much better. Then I happened to see the tiny stamped message on one of the boxes: “Miracles do happen.” WOW. That moment will always stand out in my mind. Thanks so much for that wonderful surprise!

      • ((( Julia ))) I really believe it xoK

        • So do I – and somehow when I saw that little stamped message I just KNEW it was true! 🙂

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