A white man with a white beard and long white hair pulled into a ponytail smiles for the camera.
Dad. He’s a pretty cool guy.

Life is also beautiful

The Recovery Chronicles #18

In 1995 my father was diagnosed with Leukemia. After a long stay at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, NE, he eventually beat it. Fast forward a couple of decades and he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. This time he was taken care of at a hospital in St. Louis, MO. Fast forward once more through all of my own health issues to today and we arrive at April 2022 when my father was diagnosed with more cancer. This time, it spread pretty quickly and pretty widely.

During his first two cancer battles, my father had insurance, so paying for the treatment was not an issue. Today, my father is retired. He has no insurance. In the United States, that means his treatment will financially break him and my mom.

Why am I bringing this up in my series that has been about my health woes? Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the people who raise you are the most influential people in your life whether you like it or not. When your behavior is unintentionally similar to theirs, they are influencing you. When you strive to be different from them, they are influencing you. In a multiverse virtually void of absolutes, this might be the lonely single.

So my father’s indomitable will to survive, particularly in 1995 when I was seventeen years old and he was thirty-six, is one of those things that inspired me to look at everything from my infection to my heart problem with determination and drive. On some level, my dad taught me that, despite the pain, life is worth living. Some may look at our existence as “a process that has created an expanding ocean of suffering and confusion where there previously was none” (Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race). In their eyes, without life, we have no understanding and without understanding, we have no knowledge of pain. Thanks to my father, I cannot agree with that concept.

Yes, existing and being conscious of existing can be painful. Like many of you, it has led me down a twisting, twirling road of depression on more than one occasion. At times, that depression has manifested itself in very real and very frightening ways. But after seeing my father battle a deadly cancer not once but twice, after seeing him waste away, suffer through indignities ranging from spinal taps to chemotherapy (necessary indignities at the time, but indignities nonetheless), strangely, some spark of hope was ignited in my belly. It hasn’t always burned brightly and in fact has come close to expiring time and again. But it is there and in 2020 when I battled an infection that, if left untreated, could have killed me, when I found out my gallbladder was a calcified mass in my guts, and when the cardiac surgeon looked and me and said, “Mr. Stueve, without this surgery, you don’t have ten years,” I felt that spark grow into a forest fire of determination. I was going to live, damnit.

Yes, life is hard and it can be ugly. Yes, most of our rulers are fools seemingly hellbent on culling the emotional, mental, and physical future of our children. Yes, loss and suffering and ignorance and hate besiege us all in one way or another. Yes, the world is literally burning around us. A brushfire almost hit my house a couple weeks back. I live in Omaha. In other words, when I say “literally,” I literally mean “literally.” So, once again, life is hard and it can be ugly. I know that. You know that. We all know that.

But.

Life is also beautiful. It is your significant other’s smile. It is your dog’s warmth resting against you. It is the sun shining down from the heavens on a warm afternoon. It is your child’s hand in your own. It is snow days and summer break. It’s vacations to the beach. It’s forests and squirrels and waterparks and butterflies and toys. It’s eating a pretzel. It’s drinking a beer. It’s watching stupid movies on Netflix. It is laughter. It is comforting your distraught friend. It is shoveling your neighbor’s sidewalk. It is petting your cat. It’s conversations with people you love. It’s cake. It’s pie. It’s music. It’s books. It’s too much buttery popcorn. It’s parks. It’s smiles. It’s joy, for, without life we have no understanding and without understanding we have no knowledge of joy.

Despite the pain and because of the beauty, life is worth living. My father taught me that. With this recent and third diagnosis of cancer though, something has changed. It seems his determination to survive has weakened to a frighteningly low point. Is it the fact that this is his third bout with cancer and he’s just sick of it and everything it’s doing to his body? Is it the fact that he lives miles away from any treatment facility? Is it the fact that he is older? Maybe it is. Maybe it is a little from column A, a little from column B, and a little from column C. But you know what it is mostly? It’s column D: his lack of insurance.

In the United States, unless you have insurance, the cost of cancer treatment (or any serious medical treatment for that matter) is financially insurmountable. There is no question that this is morally and ethically wrong, that medical treatment should be a right, not a privilege. Alas, in the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world,” it is a privilege not a right. This is objectively evil but at this point in history, for those who cannot see that, there is no hope. So, let’s not get into that.

Instead, we could send some positive vibes out there, and help my dad because I know that with that dousing worry off his plate, his spark of determination will reignite.

To help my father, follow this link.

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AE Stueve

AE Stueve

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AE Stueve teaches and writes in Omaha, NE. Check out all of his available work at aestueve.com