I have a problem with the concept of hope. It was central to Obama’s 2008 campaign, and it stank to high heaven then. It’s possible that that campaign had an effect on my perception of the concept, I’ll admit. Seeing millions of people line up to try and exorcise their Bush fatigue by opting for a slicker, smarter, seemingly more morally palatable version of what they were supposedly sick of– well, it didn’t exactly endear me to the vast majority of the electorate. It didn’t help that a plurality only a few millions smaller stood in line (I’m guessing in a much shorter and more comfortable line, on average) to vote for one of the most comically vile tickets ever to be offered to the public by either of the major parties. So what all these people were ‘hoping’ for I can’t say, because I don’t want to use any profanity in this post.
To me, hope is something that exists for only two classes of people. The first class is by far the largest, and it consists of suckers, idiots, the morally weak, and others who don’t want to put in the work of actually trying or sacrificing. I know that description sounds harsh, and I mean it to. It’s one thing to say ‘I hope the Cubs win today’; it’s a meaningless thing, really, perhaps except for the small emotional lift a Cubs fan might receive from an otherwise futile and pointless outcome. When there’s something important on the line, however, one does not resort so easily to hope; one does not look at the economic and foreign policy mess created by eight years of Bush (and eight years of Democratic capitulation) and say ‘I’m going to hope this smiling black Democrat with the Harvard education and the good diction will help make things better.’ No, one doesn’t do that. One looks long and hard at all the available candidates on the ballot and one decides which one will be most likely to get on that bully pulpit and take that vastly expanded executive power and fight back against the creeping fascism and casino capitalism and rampant imperialism. One doesn’t use ‘hope’ as a starting point.
But enough about my disgust with the voting habits of the vast majority of my fellow citizens. We can drone on about that later. I really sat down to discuss the other class of people for whom hope exists. This class is small enough to be statistically insignificant. It consists of persons who see the struggles they have before them; they weigh their options, and they exhaust all human energies and possibilities in their various fights. These are the few who earn hope. I am not one of these people, and I don’t know that I’ve met more than a few.
I want to tell you about one whom I never had the chance to meet, but whom I’ve been fortunate to learn about. First, though, let me tell you why.
About four years or so ago, my union, Local 2, worked out a deal with the City of Chicago that gave all the city’s firefighters and paramedics access to a very expensive full-body scan at HeartScan of Chicago. Thousands of us took advantage, and I know personally of a few whose lives were saved by the discovery of potentially catastrophic conditions they never would have caught otherwise. The only item of interest on my scans was a translucent nodule, no bigger than a nickel, on the upper lobe of my left lung. Not a big deal, or so thought the HeartScan physician who pointed it out to me. Still, she recommended I take the scan info to my own doctor, which I did.
Dr. Sean D. O’Connor, a cool and competent physician whom I’m lucky to have stumbled across, had the same reaction as the HeartScan doctor. He didn’t make a big fuss, but recommended letting the experts around the corner at Robert H. Lurie take a look. I was sent to a particular doctor, an excellent one who’s since severed his affiliation with the Lurie Center and whose name I can’t recall. That doctor thought it might be nothing, but advised keeping an eye on the nodule; he recommended I return to the center every six months to a year for a fresh scan to watch for any changes. The case was eventually handed off to a Dr. de Hoyos, who began to discuss the possibility of surgical removal of the nodule.
About nine months or so ago, a Dr. Malcolm DeCamp took over. The first scan I received under the watch of his team showed a slight increase in the opacity of the nodule, and a slight change in its shape if not its size. It was time to cut the sucker out. So I agreed to the surgery, let my wife know what was going on, and so forth. The surgical plan was as follows: I’d be anesthetized, and then three or more holes would be cut through the left side of my rib cage. With the assist of a video camera and other tools I can’t imagine, the lung would be deflated and folded over, and a wedge of it containing the offending nodule would be removed. While I was still out on the table, the wedge would be transported down to a lab for a biopsy to determine if it were cancerous. If not, I’d be sealed up, reinflated, and sent home either that night or the next morning, and probably back to my normal activities within two weeks. If it were cancerous, then the surgery would continue with the removal of the top twenty percent of the left lung along with the lymph nodes that drained into that segment. It would mean a couple more nights in the hospital and a longer recovery, but I’d be technically cancer-free and back to normal eventually.
I tell you this entire story because I want to illustrate that I’m very fortunate. I have excellent insurance, for one thing; it’s a dirty shame that one has to say that in so wealthy a country, but there it is. Because of that insurance, and because of having a good union (how many workers can say that, too? Another shame), I was able to get really expensive early detection of a decidedly non-aggressive cancer; I was able to have the cancer monitored; and finally, I was able to have the cancer removed and have my recovery supervised by one of the finest medical staffs in the world in one of the finest facilities in the world.
So you see, I got off easy, and I got to come home to the same love and support that helped me get through my brief stroll in the park past a cancer that waved hello but was walking briskly and texting and didn’t have time to stop and chat.
Unfortunately, though, early detection and excellent medical care are often not enough, even for some who might have access to some of the material advantages that I’ve had. I don’t know the percentages, but not all cancers are so fittingly lacking in ambition as was mine. There’s a reason the word ‘cancer’ can immediately plunge one into mortal fear or at least into thoughts of morbidity.
Now I want to introduce you to Hank Schueler. I never met Hank, though I was fortunate enough to meet his family. Hank’s dad Matt told me Hank’s story, and I honestly can’t write this part without weeping from the memory of Matt Schueler telling that story. So I won’t ruin the story by trying to tell it myself. I’ll leave that to others who’ve done a much better job of it. I will say in closing that I’m glad to have met Hank’s family; I’m also grateful to have once been a tiny part of helping raise money in the fight against diseases related to pediatric cancer, grateful because it was a chance to pay tribute to a kid who earned hope, and to the family that earned it with him.