The human spirit: Story of a lung cancer survivor

The Hollies may have serenaded “The Air that I Breathe”, but polluted air can be detrimental to the lungs.  According to Kurt Straif, head of The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s section that ranks carcinogens, the risk of cancer (depending on location and level of exposure) was found to be similar to that of breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke. Add air pollution to other known risk factors predisposing individuals to lung cancer, and one begins to understand some of the possible reasons why non-smokers such as Dana Reeve, activist and wife of Christopher Reeve, perished from this disease. Treatment strategies have been outlined by the American Lung Association and recent discoveries on ways to break through cancer’s shield have led to the development of promising immunotherapies for lung and other cancers.

However, these facts may provide little comfort to a patient diagnosed with an illness that accounts for about 27% of all cancer deaths (American Cancer Society). An initial shocked reaction may eventually be replaced by proactive participation in disease management, scouring the Internet for newsworthy clinical trial results, and cooperating with the FDA to create better treatments for lung cancer. Survivors may also seek social support online via sites such as cancer.im. On the other hand, they could channel their inner adventurers and ski to the North and South Poles.

Lung cancer survivor, Barbary Hillary, decided to defy the odds and undertook these arduous Arctic journeys in 2007 and 2011. Barbara’s preparations and trip to the North Pole were vividly recounted in a 2007 USA Today article. Successfully crossing the same regions as the polar adventurers, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton, placed the retired African-American woman in a league of her own. Her tenacity in the face of medical challenges and age can serve as an inspiration to everyone.

The human spirit (first appeared in The Norwalk Patch – a tribute to adventurer, Barbara Hillary)

The Hollies may have serenaded “The Air that I Breathe”, but polluted air can be detrimental to the lungs.  According to Kurt Straif, head of The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s section that ranks carcinogens, the risk of cancer (depending on location and level of exposure) was found to be similar to that of breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke. Add air pollution to other known risk factors predisposing individuals to lung cancer, and one begins to understand some of the possible reasons why non-smokers such as Dana Reeve, activist and wife of Christopher Reeve, perished from this disease. Treatment strategies have been outlined by the American Lung Association and recent discoveries on ways to break through cancer’s shield have led to the development of promising immunotherapies for lung and other cancers.

However, these facts may provide little comfort to a patient diagnosed with an illness that accounts for about 27% of all cancer deaths (American Cancer Society). An initial shocked reaction may eventually be replaced by proactive participation in disease management, scouring the Internet for newsworthy clinical trial results, and cooperating with the FDA to create better treatments for lung cancer. Survivors may also seek social support online via sites such as cancer.im. On the other hand, they could channel their inner adventurers and ski to the North and South Poles.

Lung cancer survivor, Barbary Hillary, decided to defy the odds and undertook these arduous Arctic journeys in 2007 and 2011. Barbara’s preparations and trip to the North Pole were vividly recounted in a 2007 USA Today article. Successfully crossing the same regions as the polar adventurers, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton, placed the retired African-American woman in a league of her own. Her tenacity in the face of medical challenges and age can serve as an inspiration to everyone.

Frederick Douglass and “Hide Thou Me”

I am re-posting this 2012 article (based partly on information obtained from the archives at The Norwalk Museum) in remembrance of Black History Month in the USA:

We have just celebrated Black History Month and it is therefore fitting to pay homage to Frederick Douglass (February 1818 – February 20, 1895) , an African-American social reformer and statesman who was the antithesis of the notion that slaves “did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.”

Wikipedia provides one with an overview of  his life, from his birth in Talbot County, Maryland to his successful escape across the Susquehanna River and final arrival in the house of the abolitionist, David Ruggles, in New York. His abolitionist activities, involvement in women’s rights, travels, fight for emancipation and suffrage during the Civil War years, role as a statesman during the Reconstruction era and writings (including his celebrated autobiography [Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845]) are cataloged online and in print at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, New York as well as at other locations. Schools, prizes, stamps and a bridge bear his name.

In today’s fast-paced, attention-deficit-prone world one could be forgiven for thinking of him as a bronze statue in a park or a remote historical figure of interest to only specific segments of society. However, even a cursory interest reveals glimpses of a charismatic man who defied the status quo in every possible way. After burying Anna  (his wife of more than four decades with whom he had five children) in 1882,  Douglass married a white woman, Helen Pitts (a graduate from Mount Holyoke College) in 1884. His response to the outrage at the time was that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother and the second had been to someone the color of his father.

It is in the yellowing pages of  the Norwalk Gazette dated 27 February 1895 that one comes across another facet of the man. Douglass apparently loved the hymn, “Hide Thou Me,” and sang it the day before he died. Part of the lyrics reads as follows:

Sometimes I feel discouraged

And I think my works in vain

I’m tempted oft(en) to murmur

To grumble and complain

But then I think of Jesus

And all he’s borne for me

Then I cry

Oh rock of ages

Hide thou me

Ohh rock of ages

Hide thou me

This was a powerful reminder how a hymn helped to sustain a former slave in his daily life and fight for disfranchised countrymen, just as it continues to strengthen peoples’ faith and resolve today.

Flipping back through the archived newspapers, it was interesting to note how Douglass was viewed through the prism of his own generation. Upon his death, the Norwalk Gazette of 23rd February 1895 felt the need to temper their effusive praise for Douglass by mentioning that he “lacked the scholarship” of a noted editor, Wendell Phillips, or the “masterful rhetoric” of the prominent American abolitionist, Lloyd Garrison.

However, in the vein of “a famous person passed through our town,” the article ended with a mention of Douglass visiting Norwalk a couple of times, where he was once the guest of Senator and Mrs. O.S. Ferry. The Norwalk Gazette redeemed itself with a moving description of the Douglass funeral on 27 February 1895. One could imagine being there as the train bearing his coffin entered Central Station in Rochester, New York. Throngs of people watched the funeral procession wound its way first to City Hall, where the body rested in state for several hours, and then to the Central Church, where the invocation was delivered by Dr. H. H. Stebbins. A male quartet sang his favorite hymn, “Hide Thou Me,” before the service concluded and Douglass was finally laid to rest.