“Chasing the illusive Unicorn” The fight against Breast and Ovarian Cancer By Peter Maddison-Greenwell
In dedication to, Dr. Hochstein’s Business Manager
who continues to fight Ovarian Cancer and his daughter Katie Maddison-Greenwell- An Uncles and fathers Love
Chasing the illusive Unicorn.
History shows us, that from the beginning of time, mortals have reached out for and hung onto the possibility that there is a force that will protect those that seek it out and believe in it.
Some will pray for a miracle whilst others will wish for magic. Whether the source is the same as your God or another’s creator, the need for the belief in a central figure of goodness, who will nurture and protect and when called upon, save us for a better purpose has always and will always be there.
We “realize” this force through our imagination, through blind faith or desperate hope. The need for some form of symbolism gives us a figure to focus on. One such figure is the mythical creature, The Unicorn.
This uni-horned beast has been presented in many forms throughout history. Appearing to some as a large goat type figure. To others, it is represented with features not dissimilar to that of another mysterious creature, the dragon. To the majority it is the figure of the greatest beauty, the horse. No horse fits this image more than that of the Andalusian of Southern Spain. His majestic bearing and sculptured muscular body and lofty graceful movement leave only the imagination to place the single horn between its eyes, leaving its long and silky forelock to frame the source of all power and goodness.
The Unicorn is considered the last of the mythical beings to protect the World. We consider the Unicorn as the protector of all that is good. It epitomizes beauty, power, strength and intelligence, all the characteristics we would wish to poses in such volume that we ourselves can overcome all that is put upon us. So much power it is beyond the mortal and becomes the magical.
Today the world around us is full of the worst of human character. War, terrorism, perversion, brutality and unkindness of every form, even within what is supposed to be our closed and trusted relations. Be it between partnerships, families, friendships, communities or countries, our treatment of our fellow man has remained astoundingly cruel despite incredible advances in technologies and thousands of years of preaching’s and philosophies.
We are taught that kindness and care for others who share this planet, both human and animal will be our only salvation. Surely, the continued lack of all that is good: Love, empathy, compassion and kindness will destroy us all. Leaving a world devoid of all sound and movement.
For those of us who are not great scholars, philosophers or theologians, life continues with its daily chores, broken up with sporadic pursuits of pleasure and excitement, until the moment it all changes.
It is in our darkest hours that the fears of mortality we reflect upon, drives us to pray or wish for some sign of a miracle or magic.
What brings about these fears of mortality more than almost anything else is the fear of prolonged sickness and unbearable pain associated with Cancer. Everyone knows someone. Everyone, no matter how tough, how strong, how fit, how young, how bad, how good can be struck by it. Cancer knows not the color of your skin nor cares for your faith. Rich or poor it can strike and devastate the lives of all that are close to it.
I have been close to it almost all my life. The first years without even knowing, as that was the way it was in those days. My mother had it for many years and we never knew. It was handled discretely fifty years ago. My mother was a survivor to the grand age of 74. An older brother after a somewhat full and less normal life was found to have tumors.
At a later stage in life I think we are more excepting of a lose, especially when it is a life well lived.
Three score years and ten is what they tell us in the bible. And what an “arse of a doctor” had the lack of respect and decency to tell us in front of our father, near to his death at 79.
It is when younger people are struck, we feel not only the loss of a dear friend or close family but the loss of a life unfinished, unfulfilled.
One dear friend Alison, was lost to breast cancer with little time to prepare for her very young daughters who will grow up never having that special relationship and guidance she would have surely given.
I have just left Miami where I have been visiting my niece, who I left with a hug and a smile to go to Chemo.
In fact it was her idea of “chasing the illusive unicorn” and the discussion that followed that inspired me put “pen to paper” or more “finger to screen”. I felt the need to tell others of this journey I the hope that it will support and help others.
There is a need to find inspiring stories of survival, the “light at the end of the tunnel”, the “happy ending”, is in us all. We all want to know there is hope. The human instinct to survive is strong. The creator hard wired us for that. He also built in the capacity to cope with the fears that such events as cancer brings. If he hadn’t, we would all be taking the quickest root out to another world.
We all need to chase and find “that illusive Unicorn”. The rare “survivor,” the one that defied all the odds cancer can bring to your doorstep. We need to know that there is out there somewhere, that magic protector who may just help in our time of need. We can then place every ounce of energy, faith and trust in others to give us just a little longer with those we love and cannot bear to lose.
Michelle and I had talked for hours during the visit. I had so much to learn. I, like many had played ostrich until I had learned of Michelle’s diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer and the fact that she had what is known as the BRCA gene. This predisposes the candidate to a higher risk than the average person and lets face it, the statistics are scary enough, if you only dare look. I will leave others to talk with authority on the subject. This short piece is more about the journey’s I have had and am witnessing. It is painful, frightening and inspiring to watch the courage and strength of others.
Unfortunately genetics being what they are travel down through the family line and can continue for generations.
Despite Michelle’s own fears and needs at the moment of diagnosis, her first thought was to inform the family, to get checked and take whatever preventative action necessary. It was a precious gift to us all. An unselfish act, an opportunity to give us all the time to get an early diagnosis.
The phone call from my niece was not an easy one, as you can imagine. The pain in her voice was not for herself but for others. Within days she had done all she could to help the family, insisting on initial testing for the BRCA gene and a plan for prevention.
It was a gift that my daughter Katie grasped with both hands and with gratitude. Not everyone wants to know! After that I certainly struggled with the informing the rest of the family.
As a father, the thought of being unable to protect or prevent your own child from harm is a something no parent wants to feel. The guilt that accompanies the passing on of these cancer genes taunts any Mother or Father even when the offspring has the calmness and kindness to recognize your pain and explain why it could be worse. I could be “ginger”. Thank you Katie. Your humor and courage has impressed and inspired so many already.
When informed I understand there are many who fear the treatment more than the fear of the inevitable, there is a window of opportunity. For women in this case, it is early 30’s. Much past this and statics have shown the risk of cancer is higher still. The younger ladies in our family where of an age to take this seriously.
Within days of her diagnosis, Michelle had begun the process of her treatment.
The realization that my family was at risk of having the BRCA gene, carried from my mother through my generation to our children, had hit hard.
Within days my own daughter had done her own research and had made one of the most difficult decisions a woman could make. Preventative surgery. For Katie it was what I believe to be a courageous act for the sake of her son Joshua rather than take the chance as so many do. I now understand more than I did 12 months ago for sure. Do I know the all the statistics? No! Do I really know what Michelle and Katie are going through? No!
In these desperate times all we can all do is support and love each other. Every moment is precious and sparing time to be with a friend or loved one may be all we can do. A hug, a squeeze of the hand, a smile may be all we have. To those who need it, it means the world and gives comfort. The thought that there may be that unicorn still out there give us hope.