“Illness is the night-side of life,” Susan Sontag, 1978
According to the RMH Foundation, cancer outpaces national trends and kills more people in the Shenandoah Valley than any other cause of death. Cancer disproportionally affects the Shenandoah Valley, taking close to 800 lives per year. Other locations in Virginia likewise suffer from the scourge of cancer.
Born and raised in the Valley, I am a forest ecologist, science educator, and conservationist having tussled with a glioblastoma for the past several years, an aggressive and terminal form of brain cancer with no cure. At this moment, I am an outlier on the survivorship curve. Back in 2016, this ugly beast nearly devoured me – and still threatens my life with its rapacity.
The epidemiology of these multifarious cancers in the Valley varies with individual lifestyle factors, family histories, genetic disorders, environmental exposures, and even dietary and exercise regimens. Spiritual practices can influence our long-term endurance of these consuming horrors.
Consequently, it is unlikely that medical researchers will discover a single “silver bullet” for all their collective treatments. In the quagmire of cancer origins, our survival of these horrific diseases often depends on the coincidence of emerging chemical and technological advances. For some, millimeters matter for their successful prognosis. That said, many professionals agree that we are on the cusp of effective cures for some of these “weeds” that grow in the dark side of the human garden.
Recently, I read an interview with F. Murray Abraham, one of my favorite actors with memorable roles in “Amadeus,” “The Name of the Rose,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” He’s a Syrian Christian whose grandfather told a favorite parable that is partly applicable here. A sparrow heard that the sky was falling. The little bird lay down on his back. Along came one of the king’s equestrians. “Sparrow, we have much work to do! What are you going down there?” The sparrow answered, I heard that the sky is falling. “I’m holding it up.” The horseman was amused, “Do you really think you can hold up the sky with those little legs?” The sparrow glanced heavenward and replied, “We do what we can.”
Whether a patient, caregiver, or supporter for those who struggle with the horrors of cancer, your every action moves us inexorably toward the defeat of this plague of modernity.
To help us find a cure for glioblastoma, I have donated tissues and medical files to researchers and students who might benefit from my experience. Further, I have written a book about my journey as told through light-hearted vignettes about its medical, spiritual, and financial challenges in order to inspire others to give them hope. A poor scientist and educator, I will do what I can and not rest until that happy day when we can give genuine hope to the suffering.
Please consider a contribution to my book campaign. https://www.gofundme.com/rinker-book-publishing-campaign
Together we can turn this sordid illness toward the dayside of life. Please do what you can.
Thank you and bless you for your efforts!
Biographical Sketch: H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D., is a forest ecologist, science-educator, and conservationist living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He is also the founder of Bioquest Solutions LLC, a multi-service environmental consultancy at home and abroad. Bruce may be reached at [email protected].