Drug use & cancer: An unfortunate contrast

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A field of Steph’s favorite flowers.

Yesterday, I lost an old friend to leukemia. We worked together at Planned Parenthood for almost nine wonderful years and let me tell you, she was one of the kindest people you would ever meet. Honestly, I cannot think of a single moment when she was mean or annoying or unfriendly or too busy to be kind. She was a sweet, gentle soul who was always giggling and despite impossible odds, she always managed to keep herself out of office politics. Steph was a young girl–several years younger than I–and not only did she leave behind her PP family but she also left behind a young son and husband. I can’t imagine how hard it’s going to be for her son to deal with losing his mother way too early in his life.

Steph’s struggles with cancer began in July of 2012 and yesterday her body finally gave up and understandably sought peace. Cancer is such an impossible battle. I watched it literally consume my sister’s body until there was nothing left. I admire anyone who bravely fights an illness of this kind and the people who stick by their side the whole way. Take it from me, watching a loved one go through something like that is beyond painful. It takes all the strength you possess and more.

I’ve noticed that people who face life-threatening illness tend to buckle down and prepare themselves for the fight of their lives. They develop an unshakable will and determination to do whatever it takes to live. However, I can’t help but consider the contrast too. I think of the people out there who have their health and are not facing death, yet they give up way before their time. A friend of mine lost the love of her life last Christmas Eve. His death was in part due to drug use. She has not gotten over this loss and probably never will. To add insult to injury, just a few days ago, almost exactly a year later, she lost a good friend to drug use. There’s a lot of shame around using drugs, so much so that even close friends are unaware of one’s private struggles with addiction. That’s a lot of energy spent hiding one’s pain from the world and I can see how it would be consuming. I hope for all of those suffering that the will to live overcomes shame and that help is sought.

Hard, deadly drugs seem to be becoming more prevalent in our society today. My 46-year-old brother has lost several friends in the past few years to drugs. He lives in Ocean City, MD and heroin use seems to be exploding there. This absolutely shocked me to hear because, first of all, I thought that only rock stars and Hollywood actresses did heroin and secondly, well…doesn’t everyone and their mother know that heroin is one of the worst recreational drugs one could ever take? If you’re going to a resort town to party, why the heck would you pursue a potential overdose of a toxic substance? Am I alone in this? I just don’t get it. When I was down there last, we went to Rehoboth Beach, DE for some food and they’d just busted a bunch of people selling heroin needles right on the beach. This is the place where we spent our summers as a family! Even in our hometown, they’re finding meth labs every day. What the hell are people thinking?

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Rest in peace my friend. Until we meet again.

It’s this contrast that I find puzzling. Some people will fight with every last fiber of the being to live and some easily give up. I’m not going to sugar coat any of this and I have no desire to be judgemental but this isn’t an issue of education or lack there of. The entire world knows that heroin, meth and the like are toxic and potentially lethal. When you begin taking drugs like this, you must know in some capacity that you are giving up on life in some way shape or form. Yes, it’s a form of escapism, and I know life is hard but when I think about people like Steph who face almost certain death and refuse to give up, I have very little pity for those who are feeling down so they need a drug-induced pick-me-up.

Then there is this horrible grey area where unsuspecting people are being sold death in pill form by drug companies. I feel for the well-meaning folks who are hooked on prescription drugs, such as opiate pain medications (basically heroin hiding under a fancy name). We are told that drugs are bad and that they’ll kill you, yet drug companies slap a new name on a deadly substance, provide doctors with incentives to prescribe it, and now people assume that what they’re being given is safe because doctors know best. The only thing safer about these prescribed drugs is that there is dosage, side effect, and contradiction information provided. They’re most certainly as toxic and habit-forming as any street drug though.  They slowly modify and breakdown the body just like any other drug and people often forget that innocently mixing them with alcohol or even Tylenol can be fatal. With the best of intentions, people get hooked and if worst comes to worst and the doctor cuts you off, these medicines are so commonly prescribed that they can easily be found in the pocketbook of the person next to you. And if desperation takes hold, don’t worry, you can find it being sold on the beach in a family resort town.

I just don’t know what to think about all of this. Some people fight so hard for life, some do everything they can to escape it, and some are just duped. Your thoughts?

1 response to Drug use & cancer: An unfortunate contrast

  1. Jess says:

    Great, thoughtful post. So sorry about the loses you’ve endured in your life. I do agree, there is a growing drug problem in our society. I also fear all the ‘helpful’ drugs people are turning to. So many cures can be made by cleaner mental and physical practices that could rid them of these ‘needed’ drugs!

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