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No Man Is an Island


After being diagnosed, my first inclination was to to go to my bedroom, put my head under the covers and ignore the world. Fiends kept calling me and I ignored the calls. Finally, I answered the telephone in frustration.

Many of us, at one time or another, may have heard the part of a famous poem by John Donne: “No man is an island; entire of itself... any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind…”

I have always been intrigued by this quote and believed it to be true. I am a very social creature by nature. It is not unusual for me to go out with friends three or four days a week. When one is single and doesn’t cook, this is a real plus! I often joke about Sita, my hearing ear service dog. She was so shy from being abandoned and thrown out on the streets before her rescue that the trainers were not sure she had the ability to be a good service dog. Within a year of living with me, no one ever believed she was shy, and 10 years later, they laugh if I tell them! Now she is so social that she greets everyone she knows with wagging tail and little excited hops. She has not been abandoned since and is much loved. I also tell people that living with me, she had to be social and there was no choice! Sita and I are blessed to have many friends, neighbors and family members who love us as a team.

However, this quote mentioned earlier about no man being an island really took meaning after I lived with cancer for eight years. I was amazed when I did some research to discover that this poem was written in 1624 by John Donne when he was gravely ill and thought he was going to die. No wonder this resonates with me. After being diagnosed, my first inclination was to to go to my bedroom, put my head under the covers and ignore the world. Fiends kept calling me and I ignored the calls. Finally, I answered the telephone in frustration. Two of my closest friends wanted to get together the following evening. I told them I wasn’t up to it.

One of them told me sternly, “My mother had leukemia for many years. You aren’t going to do this; you are going out with us.”

He knew what I didn’t. I needed people now more than ever. I could not become an island, or I would die emotionally before I passed physically.

This certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t hibernate during tough chemo weeks or when I do not have any energy. To me, this is called refueling. But to cut myself off from others all the time would be a huge mistake.

No man (or woman — remember this was written during the 17th century) is an island. I have learned to reach out to my family, my church family, my friends and my Facebook contacts when I have been vulnerable, the chemo is hurting and I am afraid of the future. I needed my cousin to stay with me when I had tough adjustments to new chemo. I appreciated neighbors and friends who brought food and helped me around the house. I needed people I had known for years to allow me to vent and cry and talk about the unfairness of it all.

I realized, too, that I needed my oncologist, the oncology nurses, the technicians and the staff at the cancer center, the family doctor and the nurses who attend to me during my frequent bone marrow biopsies to be there and help me to survive.

Culturally, Americans pride themselves on being independent and “making it on our own.” This can be both positive and negative. We are a hardworking nation, who has developed many inventions and cures. However, other cultures within the United States and other countries admit they need families and friends to help. The Native American cultures all participate as a village to raise their children while the Amish people have barn raisings when someone’s barn burns. The entire community gathers and builds a new barn in one day. Many countries have two or three generations living under one roof and helping each other both economically, and to raise the children. We could take a lesson from them. Truly no one is an island and we need each other to survive. Even if we think we are independent, someone else is paving our roads, growing our food and educating our children. Anyway — you get the point. We are alive because of each other.

We are all intertwined and vulnerable and need each other. And while I am weakened from the cancer and cannot help others with some tasks like cleaning houses and mowing lawns, I can always send cards, listen to people when they need someone to care, and lift up prayers. I can be there for others, too, and that is the best feeling in the world.

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