I had a scare with cancer back in 2006. I got a referral from my GP to go see a community oncologist for “staging” – it was his opinion that I likely had metastatic lung cancer. For a moment I saw things very differently and prepared myself for the fight of my life. I had expected to lose weight, hair, be sick to my stomach and fight this thing until the end. At the time I was a newlywed, 2 years into a marriage but not yet a father. Being in the life sciences industry in the greater Philadelphia region, I figured why not seek the best of the best – in this case, I went to the Fox Chase Cancer center for a formal diagnosis and hopefully, treatment.
Examinations of my x-ray and CT scans puzzled 3 oncologists, and upon further invasive examination, numerous diagnostic tests, and one referral later, an infectious disease specialist concluded it was a fungal infection called histoplasmosis. Given that my symptoms amounted to little more than a nagging cough and some weight loss, I was not even treated, and all turned out well.
Since then, I’ve seen real cancer come into my social circle more than once – even take the lives of some – and I am always reminded of my “scare.” As I grow older, I’m confident I’ll see more and more of it affect those around me, and there’s always the possibility my number will come up. Although my scare wasn’t “real,” I still feel like I’ve been given a second chance and I often think about how I would deal with it now that I am a father.
I don’t doubt that I would fight tooth and nail to live, but cancer can get the best of the best. So as a father, my plan now also includes leaving a legacy in a way that hadn’t occurred to me back in 2006: I would now leave my own, Jor-El Archive.
When I was a kid, the original Superman movie was pure magic: the triumphant “1-4-5” chord progression, the special effects, the suit, the fortress of solitude. After a paltry diet of the black and white Superman played by George Reeves, followed by a meager, weekly cartoon installment of Superfriends, this was mindblowing. That is, until Marlon Brando (I had no idea who he was at the time – I was only 6 years old) later showed up on the screen as Jor-El, Superman’s old man. Snooze, right? Superman is looking for answers because he’s all alone – wah, wah, wah. Get on with the super powers and crime fighting!
But now I get it. Jor-El knew he would not be there for his son and wanted to make sure the knowledge was passed down.
My sons are very young now and we have a great relationship – nothing like I had with my father, but that’s another blog post. I’ll admit, much of our relationship is based on tickle sessions and readings of James and the Giant Peach, and I recognize that I’m no Jean Piaget. But we talk in depth about ethics, values, emotions, and justice in a way that is relevant to the events in their lives. Anyway, I would hope that our communicative relationship would continue into adulthood. God knows I would like to have had an empathetic, non-dogmatic, accepting, encouraging, expressive mentor in my life for a bunch of decisions that I often imagine re-doing (I guess you’re getting a sneak peek into that next blog after all).
But what if I’m gone too early? Who will help them think through love, work and friendship? Who’ll psych them up for their first job interview? Teach them to pick themselves up after a disappointment? Who’ll teach them about what it means to be a man? A husband? A father? And now I realize I could be the one! I wouldn’t need to rely on an “Uncle Ben” or another surrogate. And if I ever see a dogfight coming sooner than I want it, I hope I’ll still be inspired to start a series of my own Jor-El archives. With YouTube, creating a library like this is effortless. Something they could recall from anywhere and experience a strong, loving (I hope) memory of me whenever they wanted.
Last year, a friend of mine died from a rare type of cancer. The battle was fierce and the chips were always down. While the convention in these situations is always to send “positive vibes”, “wish for survival”, and hope that “you’ll be the one who beats it”, I reluctantly offered this idea of also creating a Jor-El archive for her children. Though she didn’t lead me to believe the suggestion was completely offensive, I don’t know if it was met all that warmly either. Maybe it’s not such a great idea after all….