A Poem and an Essay on Cancers in America
by Maria Roth
Mama pigeon perched outside my window
Guarding her nest
One precious white egg
Inside my daughter’s hospital room
I watch and listen as my precious one sleeps
I draw the curtain so the nurses can’t see me cry
I blow my nose and remember the truth
Love is here
Peace is here
Love is here
Peace is here
Mama pigeon waits for her egg to hatch
As I smooth my daughter’s hair
Memorizing the color and texture—
before it starts falling out
Thankful for this life we share
One precious egg
[Photo is a watercolor painting of my daughter at the time of her cancer diagnosis, by Shana Dines, one of many people who offered love and support when my family needed it most.]
My Valentine’s Day Wish for America: Cure the Disease of Gun Violence
I wrote an earlier version of the above poem in September, 2009, shortly after my daughter was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age 4. Today, on February 22, 2018, my daughter is a healthy cancer survivor. She will turn 13 in April. We owe her life to the men and women who researched and developed blood cancer treatments many years before she was born. And cancer research continues, which will no doubt lead to revolutionary cures and treatments in the future—treatments that are less harsh and even more effective than the chemotherapy and radiation that my daughter endured.
This might be an odd thing to do—some might say “distasteful”—but I’d like to turn my daughter’s cancer experience into a call for research and action to cure the disease of gun violence in the United States, my home. The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day last week, which left 17 dead and 14 injured, is the latest in a long line of mass shootings. Again we find ourselves in the middle of the Great Gun Debate, and as we all argue what we should or shouldn’t do, more people of all ages are being shot and killed. Every single day, Americans are shot and killed—sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose—and this is a fact that we’ve all grown up with and pathetically accepted as “sad, but just the way it is.” It’s also “sad, but just the way it is” that so many people get cancer and die, but—BIG BUT—we have proven ourselves to be committed to preventing cancer in the future and developing treatments that save lives.
It’s not a controversial or political statement to say, “We need to cure cancer.” We’ve all agreed that cancer sucks, and people like my daughter and my mother should not have to die from this disease (and they didn’t! And I am so profoundly grateful!). We do everything we can to save people’s lives when they’re threatened by cancer. We react the same way to rare diseases that we’ve never even heard of—“Your baby has Vepliehsdlkdiekly? That’s terrible! No one should ever have to suffer from Vepliehsdlkdiekly again! We’ve gotta do something about this,” we cry, and we do. We do something. We invest in research, and raise awareness and develop new treatments, and years later, what do you know, babies born with this once-dreaded, misunderstood, rare disease start surviving.
When I say, “We need to stop gun violence,” the mood instantly changes. People get uncomfortable. Yes, it’s sad that those kids died, we mutter, but there are evil people in this world, and that’s just the way it is. People are the problem, not the guns. The guns are just a tool, no different than knives or fists. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than killed by a gun. The NRA has too much power; sorry, but your senators and representatives won’t listen to you. You’re not being realistic. This is my right. This is the price of freedom. I don’t want kids to die, but I’m a good, responsible person and I shouldn’t have to give up any of my guns. We argue and argue and argue, and some people buy more guns to protect themselves from all the potentially evil people with guns, and we sign petitions and have “active shooter” training at our jobs and in our schools, but our gun laws don’t change, and neither do the “evil people.”
I would argue that we need to start viewing gun violence as a preventable, treatable disease. Forget the political garbage and see that, just like cancer, gun violence can strike anyone, anywhere (because guns are everywhere), making it a public health issue. Without guns, gun violence would not occur—this fact alone should make gun violence a lot easier to prevent than cancer, from a purely logical standpoint—but we don’t live in a world without guns, so where do we go from here?
It’s time to set a collective goal–no more gun violence in America–and work toward it, tirelessly, the same way we’ve worked toward new and improved treatments for diseases like HIV and cancer. Why do we feel so powerless and hopeless when it comes to gun violence? I believe the majority of us are ready to ditch our “sad, but just the way it is” attitude. Most of us want to do something. Anything.
The CDC should not be barred from collecting evidence and conducting research into gun deaths: this is a no-brainer, if we are serious about preventing gun violence in the future. Evidence-based treatment, which relies on current statistics and unbiased research, is vital. If something similar to the Dickey Amendment existed to severely limit funds for childhood cancer research, perhaps because doctors were seen as “politically motivated” to cure sick children, my daughter would probably be dead.
I’m with Emma Gonzalez and all the vocal survivors of the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, daring to envision a world in which other children and their teachers never have to worry about being gunned down in their classrooms ever again. I am proud to support the teenagers—kids the same age as my own kids—speaking out and demanding an end to gun violence, which is why I will be marching in my community on March 24th, joining the March For Our Lives movement. In the next election, I will vote only for leaders who believe that gun violence is preventable and will take steps to reduce it, making all of our communities safer.
I imagine a mother in 1950, heartbroken over the death of her daughter from leukemia, hoping and praying for better medicine in the future, advocating for more research, donating money to places like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital so that other parents would never have to experience her pain. My family, 60 years later, benefited from that woman’s compassion and determination. My daughter got the better medicine that saved her life. She dodged a bullet, and I don’t take that lightly.
When our children facing literal bullets cry out for protection, when the heartbroken parents of gunshot victims demand action today so that other parents will never have to experience their pain, how can we turn our backs on them? Gun violence is a preventable, treatable disease. Let’s cure it.
Love is here. Peace is here. Love is here. Peace is here.
“Why Can’t the U.S. Treat Guns as a Public-Health Problem?” https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/02/gun-violence-public-health/553430/
“Why Gun Violence Research Has Been Shut Down for 20 Years”
“This Senator Wants to Revive Federal Research on Gun Violence, 22 Years After Congress Banned It”
“Gun Violence by the Numbers,” according to Everytown For Gun Safety: https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/
“Ten Lies Distort the Gun Control Debate”
“Florida Student Emma Gonzalez to Lawmakers and Gun Advocates: ‘We Call BS’”
Petitions to Repeal the Dickey Amendment and Let the CDC Research Gun Violence: