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

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Wow, that is an impressive photo, and a very powerful description comparing fighting Cancer to fighting a war. There’s no doubt about the dedication, work, and sacrifice. I pray that Cancer may soon be defeated!

    • Read The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I think it richly deserved the Pulitzer Prize it won. It’s eye-opening and sobering.

      • I’m adding it to my Overdrive list right now!

  2. mike c.

    I started to read that book and read like the first 100 pages i need to go back to it someday.
    Cancer is much more complex than we imagine and not just one “thing.” Also the book, “When Breath becomes Air.” is also good about a physician who eventually succumbs to the Big C.
    And now i am back to reading some of Nouwen’s letters. A complicated being if there was one. I might say.

    • Yes, I feel about Nouwen’s work the way you feel about Mukherjee’s; I have to take Nouwen in small doses. Not sure if it’s because he’s so profound or so seemingly steeped in melancholy? I haven’t read enough of him to know, but I aspire to read him based on the very small amount of his work I’ve read.

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

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