Grief Beneath The Grievance: Politics, Cancer And The Night Before Chemo

Nine years ago this month I was in the midst of a pummeling regimen for late-stage uterine cancer. The holidays were a blur and all these years later I wince while remembering the anticipation of a poisonous bi-monthly cocktail. The night before treatments required physical, emotional and spiritual rituals aimed at tricking the body into ingesting chemicals designed to usher it to the brink—without actually killing it.

It wasn’t until this week that I realized much of the world is experiencing the night before syndrome. Even those who voted for Donald Trump seem in a heightened state of agitation.

Fight or flight responses are primal and involuntary and the body responds instinctively when in close proximity to danger. Sometimes the night before chemo anxiety was as brutal as the three days of aftershocks following the infusions.

Like rapidly propagating cancer cells threatening an immune system, the recent barrage of bizarre and reckless cabinet considerations are relentless and no one seems to know whether the checks and balances of our democracy can endure or survive the onslaught.

For several weeks the majority of Americans (and it is the majority that did not vote for Donald Trump) have been dodging toxic comments, tweets and threats demanding ‘acceptance’ or enduring chastisement for not ‘sucking it up’ and ‘moving on.’

Many behave as if the confounding travesty of Donald Trump’s presidency is merely an inconvenience that should be accepted. As if this current debacle were nothing more than a bungled Starbucks order wherein instead of the non-fat latte we ordered, we received curdled whole milk.

Civility seems a distant memory as strangers attack strangers for nothing more than voicing contrasting perspectives and concerns. We are unrecognizable.

As someone who lived through the horrors of stage IV treatment, while initially feeling overwhelmed by the diagnosis there was never—not a minute―of accepting the prognosis.

I never conceded that I might not survive. In fact the moment I heard the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes the only words I remember hearing whispered—in rapid succession—were: “that’s impossible,” “but I want to live” and finally, “I’m going to live.”

Part of my survival strategy involved surgery, treatment, endless episodes of Gilmore Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm but most importantly, deep silence. Only recently have I fondly started referring to that time as my Leonard Cohen Period wherein deep insight and clarity visited regularly at 3:00 am. But my chief survival strategy involved falling in love with or developing crushes on anyone in proximity—especially those who were committed to my healing.

And while some might question the wisdom of a battle strategy that centers on love, we must remember that during the darkest, cancerous days of our nation it is love of freedom that has always dominated and prevailed. Whether it was the emancipation of Africans―who built our nation― and the recognition of their humanity, the liberation of women or the inclusion of marginalized people, a deep abiding passion for freedom has always been fundamental. And recently, after 400 broken treaties, our native brothers and sisters were joined by United States veterans to demonstrate yet again that unity, fierce love and compassion are our greatest assets.

Seven years in remission, I’ve experienced that clarity rises up in the face of extinction.

For all these reasons, ‘accepting’ the victory of a toxic (and unqualified) candidate who places all of these freedoms in immediate and imminent danger is inconceivable. And for anyone suggesting that a Trump presidency is the painful treatment needed to cure our country’s ails, that’s a bit like prescribing a lobotomy for a tension headache.

The high level of anxiety, irritability and inability to sleep described by so many are natural responses when anticipating the pummeling we are about to endure.

Yes, the prospect of Donald Trump as commander-in-chief is alarming and this is the dreaded night before.

And while it may seem like there are no doctors (or adults) in the house, there are those who remind us that ferocious love and audacity rise up in the bleakest of moments.

People like Christopher Suprun, the 9/11 First Responder and U.S. Presidential Republican Elector for the State of Texas who in his NYT editorial, bravely and eloquently called upon fellow Republican electorates to set aside partisan allegiances and join him in refusing to vote for Donald Trump. It is inconceivable that since his heroic declaration one week ago that no other faithful electors have had the courage to follow his lead. Electors with children and grandchildren—who will be left with the aftermath of a Trump presidency—seem deaf and dumb to the ramifications of recklessness in favor of partisanship. And yet we must be encouraged by Suprun’s courageous gesture.

Although I did not fight cancer, I listened closely. Cancer whispered questions in the wee hours of the morning that demanded examination. What is the grief beneath the grievance? What is this cancer demanding me to see and to hear?

Now seven years in remission, I’ve experienced that clarity rises up in the face of extinction and that even in horrific circumstances we are always—without exception―being called to our better selves.

As we enter our collective dark night, may we listen compassionately for the grief beneath the grievance while loving one another fiercely through the next four years. Our survival depends on it.

And may the holidays provide optimism, hope and a speedy recovery for us all.

Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker currently directing a full feature documentary called Scouting For Diamonds with Co-Producer, Bill Murray. When not interviewing baseball scouts she stares at clouds trying to see both sides now. www.mollysecours.com