THE BLOG

American Cancer X

04/23/2013 11:18 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2013

So I had a few minutes the other day when I popped onto the 'Book to check my interactions. I'm addicted that way. All of a sudden, I had a message from my friend, Tina. For those of you who don't know, Tina is in the final stages of kicking the living crumbs out of breast cancer.

However, like all of us from time to time, especially when we are in the throws of something sucky, Tina was in a really bad place. I mean... REALLY.

She had written about a time that we all feel, when everything seems to be falling down around us... a time when you just need to vent hard. I felt for Tina, and I wanted to say something positive to her, to try to help her out of her funk.

And for one of the only times in my life recently, I couldn't think of a single thing to say.

Fast forward to later that night, around 11:30 p.m. Steph and I had just watched the re-boot of Footloose (which wasn't horrendous, by the way). She had taken off her glasses to fall asleep, and I started flipping channels.

Caddyshack. Awesome... but wasn't in the mood.

Naughty Housewives From Space
. Tempting. But...

American History X. One of my favorite films of all time. Steph hates it. But Steph is sleeping. So...

For those of you who have not seen American History X, it's about a man named Derek Vinyard, a vicious skinhead who goes to prison for brutally killing two black men who were trying to steal his car. It was the excessive use of force that sent him to jail. If you haven't seen it, I don't even know how to explain how he killed one of them without making you cringe.

Those who have seen this know what I'm saying. Derek is so hardcore that he has a tattoo of a Swastika about six inches by six inches on his chest.

So Vinyard goes to prison where he bonds with his fellow skinheads. Everything goes well for a time, but then Vinyard realizes that while he is a pure hater of every other race, his fellow skinheads are bigger followers of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The only color that mattered to them was green, which explained why they went into "fuzzy" business with people unlike them.

The only person who was always straight and honest with Vinyard was someone to whom he would not give the time of day in the outside world: an African American named Lamont, who is in for dropping a stolen television on the foot of an arresting cop... according to Lamont.

When Vinyard sees his fellow jack-sauces race-mixing, he shows them up publicly. Derek then promptly finds himself on the receiving end of a bit of "How's your father?" from one of the skin-heads who actually sported hair.

Kinda makes no sense... skinhead... hair... just saying.

While still in the infirmary, Vinyard is visited by his former English teacher, Dr. Sweeney... and African American whom he actually respects. During the visit, his teacher asks him a simple question... a question that changes Vinyard's life... and a question that could change all of ours, as well:

"There was a moment, when I used to blame everything and everyone for all the pain and suffering and vile things that happened to me, that I saw happen to my people. Used to blame everybody. Blamed white people, blamed society, blamed God. I didn't get no answers 'cause I was asking the wrong questions. You have to ask the right questions...Has anything you've done made your life better?"

Vinyard thought for a minute, and he shook his head "no." And at that moment, it hit me all at once: there is only one thing that beats cancer, even if it takes your life. That one thing...

... is perspective.

At the very moment of that one question, the perspective of Derek Vinyard, a man who based his life on hate, irreversibly changed. The sometimes first and always last thing that cancer takes is perspective. It is up to us... us the battlers, us the caregivers, us the survivors, and yes... us the terminals... to take it back, no matter what.

A few days ago, one of the things that Tina was lamenting was the fact that the economics of cancer were hindering her ability to give her daughter a birthday party.

I signed in to the 'Book today and saw the pictures from her daughter's birthday party. In short, she told cancer to "suck it." It could take her breasts, it could take her hair, but she didn't let it take her happiness. Oh, it took it for a while, but she took it back.

This is not to say that perspectives don't change. Sometimes they change in an instant. The one thing we have to make sure is that they don't change irreversibly. Cancer can take a lot physically. It can only take what we allow it emotionally. We are stronger than cancer. Even if it takes our life, we are STILL stronger than cancer.

And we always will be.

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