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Disease Is Always a Battle

In America, disease is always a battle. We are to fight to the end against cancer, for example. Patients are valorized for declaring war on the disease (even if it is fatal).

Christopher Hitchens made this point in his cancer diagnosis and treatment, wryly noting the battle that all enjoined on him. Michael J. Fox in the April 1, 2012 Parade Magazine (a newspaper insert) article also refuses to describe his Parkinson's as a battle; instead, he describes it as a matter of acceptance.

There is a lot that could be said here. Stanley Hauerwas has long pointed out America's fear of death, our determination to die healthy and evade illness and mortality. There is also something about American optimism, that if we try hard enough we can figure a way out.

We so often want everything done in the Emergency Room, no matter the costs or outcome. Funerals, which mark death itself, are now reimagined as Celebrations of Life. The Lord's Supper in many Protestant churches is now a safely packaged experience with individual cups so we avoid contamination.

All of this leaves no room for struggling with our mortality, no place for a Stoic acceptance of a diagnosis. To be human is to age, change, and die. Christ's own death points to this. His death transforms our deaths and gives them hope of resurrection, but it does not erase the reality of aging, change, and death.

I do not want to make too much of death, but neither can we avoid it. To have a body is to pass through death. Some illnesses may be struggled with and even conquered; others cannot. In those latter situations, acceptance may be the best option. Rather than the ideology of battling disease, let us learn to accept the end that we cannot change, while hoping for a bright future beyond the undiscovered country.

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