Mad as Hell

Leroy Sievers, 1955-2008

Journalist and cancer patient Leroy Sievers is dead. He was 53 years old. Many National Public Radio fans know his name, as do former viewers of the TV news show Nightline.

I became aware of Sievers on a subliminal level in April 2004 when I watched the controversial Nightline program “The Fallen,” which Sievers initiated. At that time I was almost paralyzed with fear of recurrence, and I saw myself in every solder’s face that passed across the TV screen.

I became aware of Sievers in a more direct way after he responded to a comment made by Mitt Romney’s wife. From Sievers’ blog entry Cancer Is Not the Lesser of Evils dated July 27, 2007:

I was reading the current issue of People magazine. Yes, I’m a subscriber. One of the articles is about Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. She suffers from MS. I have to admit I don’t know a lot about the disease, but I do know that it is painful and debilitating. I wasn’t going to read the whole article, I was just sort of scanning the pages as I turned.

And sometimes your eye can catch on something. In describing her MS, Ann Romney said “I thought, ‘Couldn’t I just have cancer and die?'”

Ahhhh. I don’t even know where to begin. I could be angry and say that a statement like that is thoughtless. I could try to be sympathetic and say that, just as I don’t know a lot about MS, she obviously knows very little about cancer.

I’m leaning towards “angry.” Most of you, patients and caregivers, already know everything that I’m about to say. You’ve learned it through experience. But for Ms. Romney and others, here goes.

Unfortunately, with cancer it’s easy to step on a mine. Many patients are angry, and for good reason. Seemingly innocuous comments can turn venomous in a cancer patient’s tortured mind.

Once Sievers’ blog entry hit the Internet, the Romney campaign defended her comment:

Mrs. Romney was recounting a very real and very difficult emotional reaction to the news about her disease,” Romney campaign spokesperson Carolyn Weyforth told ABC News.

It’s something that many people go through, and it’s an honest reflection about a difficult period of her life. It’s a reflection that has obviously evolved as she has come to terms with the disease.

Just when readers may have begun wondering if Sievers overreacted, the Romney campaign comes out with that little gem. How hard is it to say you’re sorry for any pain you caused? Too hard for the Romneys, apparently.

Kudos to Sievers for not sugarcoating his emotions. Look at his face. That is not the face of a wuss.

And yet you still hear people say: I know she’s going to make it because she’s a fighter. In all my life I’ve yet to meet a cancer pacifist. That pacifist must be out there somewhere, though, since people keep calling the rest of us fighters.

Anyone who saw pancreatic cancer patient Randy Pausch testify before congress last March could tell he was angry. It was an anger borne not of personality, but of frustration and tragedy. By nature Pausch was a happy man. But cancer doesn’t care who’s happy, who’s brilliant, who’s loved, who’s strong.

Cancer goes about its business regardless because that’s what it does. Cancer is not a mountain lion you can beat off with a two-by-four. Cancer is not a serial killer you can trick or dissuade. Cancer is not a boxer you can put on the ropes. Cancer is not a presidential candidate you can outdebate and outspend. Cancer is not a mobster you can bribe to leave you alone.

Cancer is a disease for which there is no cure and, in many cases, no definitive cause. Those who don’t get cancer themselves will no doubt watch beloved friends and family suffer. There is no “other” when it comes to cancer.

While an individual’s battle against cancer may be mostly an illusion, the fight in Congress for research dollars is very real. The enemy isn’t cancer — it’s complacency and ignorance.

And FYI to Ms. Romney: Death by cancer is not pretty. It’s not quick. It’s not painless. Maybe you meant to say hit by a bus?


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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