– excerpted from David & Goliath, by Malcom Gladwell
To put the above in the proper context, Gladwell was relating the experiences and the background of a researcher dealing with childhood leukemia cases. At the time, there was very little relief available – but the researcher had an idea that had consequences both miraculous as well as discouraging. It was in that defeat, this physician faced his greatest fears and emotion. But because of earlier trauma that he had in his own life, and the hardening that had occurred, he was able to get past that emotion towards cure.
The remote misses and near misses are connected back to that in the work done surrounding the effects of the bombing on London in WWII. The remote misses are the ones who were aware of the attacks, “the people who listen to the sirens, watch the enemy bombers overhead…hear the thunder of the exploding bombs…But the bomb hits down the street or the next block over.”
The near misses “feel the blast, see the destruction, are horrified by the carnage, perhaps they are wounded, but they are deeply impressed.”
It’s almost too easy to relate this to cancer. I’ve always said that cancer is both an emotional as well as a physical disease. Although the healthcare industry is finally recognizing the trauma of both diagnosis and treatment, patients, survivors, and their caregivers live within it. We’re observers or we’re engaged. We’re either remote or near misses.
But do we as patients and survivors become hardened by the experience? For one, I think it takes years to assimilate what happened and how we survived it. But to me, it’s both a hardening and a softening. Speaking for myself, I’ve become more sensitive to what happens around me. More sensitive to experience, to images, to quite literally relive my own cancer experience each time I sit with a patient and listen to their own story of frustration, anger, fear, and trauma both virtual and physical. The hardening is to be able to listen and to respond with my own words and images, to provide a depth of experience that arises out of my own trauma and face it again.
I think it’s a bit of a zen approach – light doesn’t exist without dark, cold doesn’t exist without heat. Hard doesn’t exist without soft. We need both to understand, to provide counsel to ourselves and to each other.
The difficulty then is finding the right balance.