The bitter seed

Russell Wangersky
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I once wrote that 2 a.m. is the hour of bad decisions. A time when almost any decision you make can turn out, in the light of day, to be verging on the stupid.

Turns out, some Norse cultures call that same hour the hour of the wolf. But it could just as easily be called the time of all fears. And all for the same reason - for the fact that your head can run headlong and unfettered along tangents that are better left untaken.

The streets are mostly quiet then, the lights hard and cold and washing down. Bedrooms are quiet, your only aural company the fridge and the furnace, and your thoughts can jar around and rattle off the walls, pick out the scariest things and set them down at your doorstep, where you can't help but trip over them as, head up and unreasonably optimistic, you make your way out the morning door.

There are times when I wake after those nights and stand in the shower and wonder if there is some part of my body that's already betraying me, in there out of sight.

Nights when I wake up, and wonder if some fugitive ache is a sign of something more. Whether there might be some scrap of something growing there, unknown and out of sight, something that's the seed of some major looming calamity.

Then again, sometimes I wonder if it's just my age, and the age of the people I know, that suddenly makes it seem as though the next word out of anyone's mouth will be that they've been diagnosed with cancer.

But damn, it seems there have been a lot of those people lately.

I realize that this is far from an uplifting story - that there are many people who are told they have cancer and continue to live full and fruitful lives. That even though "fighting" cancer is something of a misnomer, there are people who go on to win out against the disease. There are others, perhaps more heroic in their own way, who fade quickly but never lose the magic of their essential selves, who shine out brighter than ever while their body seem to evaporate right out from under them.

But, oh, there are so many just now.

Right now, I know people with liver cancer and bowel cancer, with pancreatic cancer and breast cancer, with skin cancer and prostate, and I've begun to feel that it's just like a waiting game - that any moment, someone else will show up at my door with bad news about themselves or their loved ones.

That, any moment, it might be me. That age doesn't matter, nor bad habits. That really, misbehaviour only buys you a few more bad-luck lottery tickets in the eventual draw, a couple of extra spins on the big wheel.

Research will eventually do something about it all. I know that. Vaccines are making real headway with stopping future cervical cancers, and bit by bit, the puzzle is bound to be worked out for far more variants of the disease. It will cost lots of money, and lots of money will be found, and no doubt, drug companies will make fortunes out of it as well.

But until then, bright, bright lights will fade, and smart, skilled, experienced people will vanish from among us. Brilliant business people. Visionaries. Artists with unique vision. And people who just define what it is to be the good amongst us.

And that's what this is really about.

This great waste.

What can we do? Donate money when we can, help friends and neighbours whenever it's possible. Care and laugh and make the most of the time that each of us are alloted.

But most of all, remember. We can remember.

There's no way - no way - to lose a friend that you deliberately choose to hold in your memory every single day.

Chances are, if you have family and friends, you know exactly what I mean. You know about the alternating waves of anger and disbelief, the frustration with the unfairness of it all, and in the back of your mind, that fine and winkling selfish fear.

And right now, I think I'm just too angry to write another word.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • Pierre Neary
    December 05, 2011 - 15:25

    Pretty thought provoking column. Cancer has touched us all in some way. I too have lost friends and family to this disease. The frustration and unfairness of it all is sometimes hard to take. The most important quote of the column for me is the advice “There's no way - no way - to lose a friend that you deliberately choose to hold in your memory every single day.” Well said Russell.