A BRIEF TALK TO THE MESOTHELIOMA GROUP
SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 20, 2001
I am not only honored to be asked to speak for a few moments to so distinguished
a group, but am decidedly pleased to be alive to do so. Clearly I shall
eschew trying to play pseudo-doctor and shall not speak medically, let
alone "hard" scientifically. My own doctorate is in Philosophy,
with special focus on Plato, Hume, Whitehead and the Philosophy of Mind.
It is within that context, the philosophy of mind, that I locate my remarks.
I have found it possible to live very happily and very well even though
I was assigned to Death Row about sixteen months ago, and it is my "prescription"
for this that I propose to give you, for free even! The connection with
the philosophy of mind, by the way, is straightforward. Unless one is
an unreconstructed Dualist (that is, one who thinks that "minds"
are immaterial entities and quite distinct from "brains") one
cannot help but acknowledge that how one thinks and feels (i.e. brain
activities) affects and is affected by more "bodily" events
such as stomach aches, bruised knees and, yes, mesothelioma.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
The surgeon who operated on me December 28, 1999, was extremely discouraging
to my family and, when I went for my one and only "follow-up"
(a.k.a. "exit") visit with him, I inquired whether I should
continue to use a funny little "blower" object which had been
handed me in the hospital. (You may have seen such a thing: it has a mouthpiece
and four little plastic balls.) "Oh" said he, "no point
in bothering with that. Throw it away." When my husband and I got
back home from this enchanting visit, I went to pick up and throw away
the "blower," but instead I gave it another whirl (I mean blow
of course, or actually an inhale, since that was what is was designed
for). And behold, ALL those silly little balls (in nursery-room colors)
ascended rapidly to their intended place. "Hmmph, so much for him!"
I thought. (I did eventually throw the gadget away, but that was months later.)
Meanwhile, in January 2000 at the urging of a son of ours who lives in
New York, I went for consultations to Sloan-Kettering and New York University
Hospital. It was there in New York that I learned about the presence of
a Mesothelioma Clinic at the very hospital (the University of Chicago)
where I had been operated!
So much for background, and now it is on, briefly, to my "prescription"
for how to live well and very happily on death row. The prescription is
dressed up this occasion in the form of an axiom and some theorems.
DO NOT TAKE YOURSELF OR YOUR DISEASE TOO SERIOUSLY AND BY ALL MEANS MAINTAIN
AND NOURISH A SENSE OF YOUR RELATIVE INSIGNIFICANCE, A SENSE OF IRONY
AND ABOVE ALL A SENSE OF HUMOR.
THEOREMS (OR HOW NOT TO TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY)
1. My husband, an attorney, plays the 'cello and I play the piano.
From the day after I was released from the hospital (and blew those balls)
we have spent at least half an hour late each afternoon playing duets
IF YOU LOVE AND APPRECIATE GOOD MUSIC YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BE THINKING
ABOUT YOURSELF OR HOW YOU FEEL WHILE PLAYING.
2. Ever since I got my Ph.D. in 1964, I have worked teaching college and
teaching or tutoring as a volunteer in Inner City schools. Brilliantly
thoughtful friends and former colleagues of mine sent me manuscripts to
read and to edit, when I returned from the hospital. One eve asked me
to write a short piece about the ethics of clinical trials! The present
Chief Education Officer of the Chicago Public Schools, Cozette Buckney,
(who had been Principal of a school where I taught Junior Great Books
long ago) sent me proposals to evaluate and books and articles to criticize.
Then when I was strong enough to work outside my home, she got me a challenging
job (volunteer) tutoring quite advanced mathematics at a local school.
I have been working there two half-days a week since last spring, and
the accelerated math for 8th graders at this school is more sophisticated
than anything I ever had in high school, so -- as in the case of the music
-- I do a lot of work! Also this winter I took an elementary course in
cuneiform (the ancient Sumerian writing and mathematics) and shall do
a follow-up course this coming summer. So I guess my theorem 2 is:
IF AT ALL POSSIBLE RESUME WHATEVER ENGROSSED YOU AND REQUIRED NEW HARD
WORK FROM YOU BEFORE YOU GOT SICK. YOU WILL FIND THAT YOU ARE JUST AS
GOOD AT IT AS YOU WERE BEFORE. (That is, if you are lucky enough to have
"it" be some cognitive activity. Perhaps if you were a ballet
dancer, hmm, you might take up choreography? I don't know but a dancer would.)
3. I returned to walking our standard poodle (an Einstein among canines!)
Quite soon after I returned from the hospital (although my extraordinary
daughter often does the early morning walk). And I resumed swimming within
about four weeks after "dismissal" (there is a pool in our apartment
building which helps!). I have always gone in for sports and exercise,
not faddishly but with joy, so these physical activities like the intellectual
ones, returned me to myself so to speak. So theorem 3 is:
DO WHATEVER PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES YOU USED TO ENJOY AND DO SOME SUCH THING
EVERY DAY, BUT DO NOT SPEND YOUR TIME WHILE DOING IT BROODING OVER HOW YOU FEEL!
4. Not everyone has the extraordinary good fortune to have a "mate"
like my husband (who does NOT hover solicitously over or gaze loving but
sorrowfully at me) nor has everyone so large and wondrous a family of
children and their spouses and their children, so I cannot really call
this a theorem: perhaps a lemma:
APPRECIATE THE KINDNESS OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS BUT TRY TO LAUGH AND JOKE
WITH THEM AND NOT TO ENCOURAGE THEM IN OVERLY TENDER AND CONCERNED BEHAVIORS.
And that is about it. I want to add that I got "my affairs in order"
the first week I was out of the hospital. I am NOT "in denial."
And of course there are other delights which it seemed inappropriate to
dwell on here, except to reiterate that the experience of pleasure(s)
is crucial to my axiomatic system.
Thank you every much for this privilege!
Fay Horton Sawyier -- April 18, 2001
*** POSTED MAY 30, 2001 ***