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The Amateur Cancer Patient

The Life of a Bear (and an Old Woman)

One of my oldest blog friends, Darlene Costner, sent this clip a couple of weeks ago. It is from a 1988 French film, The Bear (L'Ours), written by Gerard Brach from James Oliver Curwood's novel and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

In the movie, an orphaned bear cub bonds with an adult male bear as they help one another avoid human hunters and other predators. Here is the scene:

Since I last mentioned my pancreatic cancer in these pages, I've been plagued with a mild version of a chemotherapy side effect known as hand-and-foot syndrome and tomorrow will undergo a short, minor surgery, an endoscopy to check for any internal bleeding.

In these circumstances, the film clip spoke to me more personally than it might have done a few months ago, the relentless mountain lion being my disease incarnate and the baby bear, me.

Within a few days of receiving the film clip from Darlene, another TGB reader, Marian Methner, sent a poem by Native American novelist, poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, N. Scott Momaday.

It is titled To an Aged Bear. Reading it, particularly after watching the clip of the cub and his adult companion, I felt like the old bear of the poem. And right now, at this moment in my life, that is a good thing:

Hold hard this infirmity.
It defines you. You are old.

Now fix yourself in summer,
In thickets of ripe berries,

And venture toward the ridge
Where you were born. Await there

The setting sun. Be alive
To that old conflagration

One more time. Mortality
Is your shadow and your shade.

Translate yourself to spirit;
Be present on your journey.

Keep to the trees and waters.
Be the singing of the soil.


Those are two very pertinent images as we mature. I say mature, because it would be most helpful to each of us to have grasped and begun to accept and the vulnerability in need of others and to begin to built the self-directed/strong with inner resources to face what has to be faced alone.

Obvious statements, I assume, but so apt to be reminded at the time of life.
Thank you for sharing and thanks to Darlene and Marian.

Both of these are gifts, and depict the range of life.

Beautifully presented and gratefully received.

Ronni, I had one of these in September and am due for swallowing a minuscule camera for filming my small intestine as they search for a bleeder.

Amazing medical advances and I look forward to being diagnosed and treated in a "Star Trek" way one of these eons.

Many thanks Darlene and Marian for these, and my intent is to read "To An Aged Bear" til it's a constant companion.

Sorry, I meant to say, Ronni, that the procedure isn't terribly invasive, being rather like the endoscopy picks up where the colonoscopy completed, better known as end to end.

I can identify with the Aged Bear. Mortality is my shadow and my shade. I accept it and am enjoying the fruits of living each additional day that I am granted.

I am constantly amazed at the story-telling ability of photography in its many forms. The Bear story was beautifully photographed and so well told.

And yes, it is an exceptional allegory of your battle.

Regarding the procedure you are about to undergo, I can only say: with all the ways modern medicine has found to inspect our alimentary canal, I do wish it was just a little less complex.

My best wishes for a speedy and easy process.


I am afraid of all these invasive treatments that endanger our lives so that doctors can "see" inside us. I'd rather just die...

long ago when the The Bear came out in the theaters, i went to see it. i only lasted about two minutes into the movie because i couldn't bare to see the vulnerability of the baby bear. today i read your column and confront the video clip of what was emotionally "off limits" to me years ago. "maturity" has permitted me to face life's journey/destiny with greater courage; i did sit through the clip this time. i love the notion of mortality representing our shadow and our shade-it's quite comforting. and i'm thrilled hear that the identity of the old bear defines your spirit today. rest well

I've had endoscopies and they've been very low impact other than the nuisance doing it. I hope that's true for you too.

What thoughtful gifts. I have a copy of that film and all of my grandkids love it. There's a scene where a hunter is cornered by the bear that is both terrifying and wonderful. I'll have to watch it again with new eyes.

Best of luck with the endoscopy; that's one procedure I've not had, but have accompanied my sister to drive her home after hers (did notice that the anesthesia tended to loosen her tongue afterwards). On a lighter note about the clip from "The Bear", my little cat jumped upon my lap to watch it and was transfixed to the end - not sure which creature she was rooting for!

I remember The Bear, thanks for the reminder. And the Momaday poem is wonderful. And it's hard to do.

I'd heard of "The Bear" but never saw it. Seeing this clip, I know I was right to avoid it. I'd have been an emotional wreck by the time it was over.

Hope tomorrow goes smoothly for you.

What a wonderfully evocative poem. Staying in the moment is the key to it I gather, not casting ahead in fearful anticipation of what may come. Here and now is all any of us have anyway.

Hope tomorrow goes smoothly, the tools available to modern medicine are sometimes little short of miraculous.

Beautiful poem. Stay strong. Prayers are with you.

This Momaday poem, so beautiful and true, will go into my journal, a reminder.
Prayers for you always.

I'm so hung up on how a photographer was able to get footage like that, that I'm speechless.

It's a good thing that clip was only 4 minutes. My heart was racing wildly. But of course I still have mixed emotions, as mountain lions have to eat to survive also. The food chain is such a challenge to accept.

Darlene and Marian have given you something of a milagrito in the synchronicity of their gifts. So thoughtful of them and you to share this.

Lots of thoughts are with you on the endoscopy and wishing you well over this hurdle.

Keep on keeping on.

Teresa G., I'm with you on the super-invasive stuff, although it doesn't sound like the endoscopy is as nasty as some of the current tests or treatments. So far, I've been lucky in not needing them. I continue to hope fervently that when my time comes, I die quickly and do not require extensive interaction with the healthcare system.

At almost 81 I'm not enthusiastic about undergoing much of what they would likely do to prolong the inevitable, especially given the current "war" on opioids. For those with chronic degenerative conditions (most of whom use these meds appropriately), this "war" could result in significantly more pain and disability for many in their old age.

Two beautiful pieces. Obviously the bear is a spirit guide for you -- symbol of both courage and protection.

You have to be impressed with that little bear cub. Just when things looked their worse, he decided to stand his ground and not give up. A metaphor for choosing life over death? Perhaps. Or is it a way of showing us that it never hurts to have a good support system.

@ElizabethRogers I knew I had seen the clip before, but didn't realize that it had been so recent. Now I know how short my memory has become.

I actually had an endoscopy a couple of years ago and the procedure itself wasn't so bad, but I was evidently one of the last patients of the day and, since they were supposed to monitor me until I was fully awake, the nursing staff was impatient waiting for me to wake up so they could go home. It was a good thing that my husband was right there to pay attention to what they were NOT doing or they probably would have turned out the lights and locked me in for the night... I can laugh about it now, but I certainly wasn't amused at the time. Just be sure that you have someone with you who can advocate for you when you're partially impaired. Also, when scheduling such a procedure, try not to be the first or last patient of the day.

What an extraordinary poem. Thank you.

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