Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 13 Blog-off: Secret Superheroes

No “Generous Souls” today, which on the one side is bad—it means that I should probably start prodding people again to donate and ask their friends to donate which is precisely as much fun as it sounds.

But it also means that instead of writing a blog post about a Generous Soul, I can write about what’s gnawing at my brain. Today I’m thinking of my friend who is about to undergo chemotherapy. She’s looking at statistics of women who are in a similar situation—but the data pool is so small. Opinions are flying in like dive-bombing birds. At least, that’s what I imagine.

Having made a living in data management, I know how worthless data can be. In order for numbers to have any value, they must be stripped of the stories from which they originate. I know why the stories get discarded. It’s because they don’t have any predictive value. Whereas statistics (such as “98% success rate”) give the appearance of offering predictive value. But when you strip the story, you lose a bit of the truth. You lose the meat

The stories are the tools for the hero’s journey. The tale of the family who grows even closer through frequent hospital visits. Or the scene with sister-in-laws sitting on a bed, hugging and sobbing, devastated at the circumstances that have brought them together, but grateful to have each other. The husband who hugs his wife and says, “I don’t want to risk losing you even 1%.”

The stories of how people deal with the unexpected is far more helpful than bundling their outcomes into various categories. Besides, it’s the only part of  our lives over which we exert any control.

I picture my friend, picking out wigs. She clicks her teeth and shakes her head because she knows that cancer is not a battle. The afflicted are not lumped into groups of winners and losers. Cancer is just a disease. Chemotherapy is not a weapon; it’s just an often-effective treatment with lots of horrible side effects. My friend’s shoulders slump, because it’s no fun to always be the grown-up, to always be the person who does the right thing, the horrible thing. My friend sighs and puts the wig back. She turns to leave, purposely avoiding eye contact with herself in the mirror. So she doesn’t see what I see in her reflection: her chin is lifted and she’s raised her fist in the air, her Superhero’s cape blowing behind her.


  1. My step-mom is undergoing chemo, it's not fun, as you know. But she is a trooper. I like the image of your friend's Superhero's cape and will think of that often now, instead of her shaved head. We all wear capes at some point. Thank you.

    Also......we had a VERY generous soul today!

    1. I like that, Teri. "We all wear capes at some point."

  2. Hear hear! Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story. I know that for my mother, going through her battle with cancer this year meant holding on to stories of those who made it and thrived years later. I'm the one looking at statistices, but she gets the power of stories.

    1. where would we be without the stories, right? Not just as writers and readers but as humans.

      Thanks again for your talk last night. See you in November?