Left Justified: Death in springtime

A vibrant, beautiful woman of 42 died of lung cancer in the prime of her life. This woman was not a heavy smoker, nor did she work in an asbestos factory. Instead, she was a runner and enjoyed the outdoor life, simple living, and a clean environment. My friend, Cindy, was also a vegetarian and seemed the picture of good health. But lung cancer took her life, and swiftly. Four months was all that she had with her loved ones between her first telltale cough and her dying breath.

How pointless a death—except that she made such good changes in the world around her. Both professionally and personally, her passion was for healing the planet and cleaning up her back yard. So why did she die? How could someone so fresh catch such a horrible disease?

Lung cancer is the great scythe of death. Prognostications for those diagnosed with lung cancer are less than a year, if they’re lucky. Yet there is little research on the causes, outside tobacco.

It did take the doctors a little while before they believed it was lung cancer, and I don’t think they ever realized how malignant it was. Such a death leaves shock and awe among friends and family members, and I look around and can’t find anyone to blame.

I pray, though, that our society will find a cure for cancer. I pray that our government will seriously research the causes and eliminate them from this country, if not from the earth, even if it means plugging every factory chimney and car exhaust.

I hope and pray for the families and friends of Cindy, but I also hope and pray for the wider population that sometimes seems more interested in gas-guzzling SUVs and bigger explosions for their military than in medical miracles that save lives.

Health is luck. It’s good food and habits, exercise, a cheerful disposition, but most of all, it is the luck of the draw. If your parents live to be 100, then you have pretty good odds.

But if you live next to a nuclear power plant and are that one in 100,000 who gets cancer, or if you take a run outside at the same time a diesel semi is driving by, then your chances aren’t so good. We live in this world only so long, and some are luckier than others.

But we can improve our chances. Eat healthier, exercise more, be happier. Take deep breaths and do so as long as possible. And vote for candidates who have the health of the people in mind (some are more concerned about the health of their friends’ pocketbooks).

And if and when we do cross over, someone better tell God we need some more prophets here on earth. We need angels of healing and Old Testament rabble rousers who will shake the foundations and remind people to care for each other. We need to be reminded not to kill our neighbors, and that our neighbors include those on the other side of this planet.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the April 6-12, 2005, issue

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