Universality of Disease

Universality of Disease

Refuge the 1991 novel by Terry Tempest Williams takes on an amazing approach to the battle of cancer. For anyone who has fought this battle they understand the strength that it takes to overcome this sad truth. Not everyone survives, in fact most don’t, and that when you do the consequences that follow often are worse than the actual disease. This novel takes on the psychological sides of cancer and the physical sides all while keeping the sanity of life too. Disease itself is completely universal and I think that in this point in everyones lives the specific disease of cancer is also universal.¬†Each cancer is different and they all have different treatment plans that also differ from each individual but the experiences and outcomes are often similar. Some people such as Diane, Terry’s mother, take on the deadly situations as positive, they want to live their lives to the greatest. Other people think of this like it is the worst thing that could ever happen and they simply just can’t function anymore. Most will fall in-between these two extremes.

Before even reading the entire novel I knew that the words spoke to me and my personal experiences. I ended up calling my dad to tell him about the take that this book had on the understanding of cancer. He has always looked at his cancer as a war, the fact that he was fighting against his own body. After I told him that he should read it he sent me this…

“I didn’t ask for this fight. I wouldn’t wish this disease on Satan himself. But, I’m in this fight. Make no mistake. Im in it. I choose to see myself not as a victim or a patient, but as a combatant. This isn’t just a fight. This is a war. It’s a war that rages inside of me every second of every day. The enemy is clever. It looks for ways around my body’s natural immune system. It hides in plain sight with impunity. It looks for ways to mutate and change so that the latest weapons my doctor gives me becomes less effective until they no longer work. It relentlessly attacks me over and over again… each time making me weaker and weaker. Im still new to this. I’ve only been on three rounds of Rev/Dex (chemo), but my resolve is stronger today than it was the first day I took all of those pills. Im not going to lose this fight. Im not giving an inch. Im not going to be moved by this. I will stare this beast in the eyes and fight with everything I have. I will go as many rounds with this beast that I have to in order to stick around until something else takes me out…. preferably old age, but I will not give in to my Multiple Myeloma.”

“Enjoy the little things”

He being a veteran has served out country for fifteen years and so I think his take on this book would be incredible. For someone who has always been a fighter he looks at this disease as the same thing. Williams stated, “And then suddenly, within the rooms of secrecy, patient, doctor, and family find themselves engaged in war” (43) which is completely true. For anyone who has sat there in the doctors office listening to them tell you parent, sibling, relative, or even yourself you know that this is something your body can’t fight on its own. That is why we have to poison it with chemicals and surgeries. My father of course has thought many times about whether these chemicals entering his body is truly worth it but for him he has two daughters, one being me, and we are what makes it worth it. The nights where he can’t sleep, the endless amounts of illness, it is like your body is slowly folding in on itself and is consuming every bit of your life. He’s a fighter but Williams also asks the question, “Can we be at war with ourselves and still find peace?” so I asked myself this question which I think every fighter has too. Being mentally stable while being destroyed by cancerous cells, chemo, and radiation is what makes you be at peace with yourself. To get past the stages of ‘why me’, ‘how could God do this to me’, and ‘how am I going to get through this’ is what will leave you at peace. I think that you have to accept this situation and choose whether or not you want to make yourself sicker to get better or if you want to live out your life the way it is and however long it last is fate.

This book reaches out to everyone who has had to deal with the death of anyone from cancer. Each sentence creates a world that is relatable and understanding. Reading someone else’s reality can often put the reader at ease with their own personal battles. I plan on taking this book with me next time I see my father so that way he can read it. He loves being able to read other peoples stories and to grasp their ways of living through this war. Even when this book is discussing the bird refuge it reaches out the those who love to protect their earth which allows for the similarity between those who are battling the disease and the battle that we as humans are fighting with mother earth.

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