Paul Stoller, AAA member, is an anthropology professor at West Chester University. He regularly brings anthropology to the forefront by blogging for the Huffington Post. Dr. Stoller’s most recent post is about how his anthropological experiences have challenged him to manage his cancer diagnosis. Below are snippets from his post. Visit the blog for the complete story. Thank you Paul!
It was 10 years ago today that I was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells…I was informed that although follicular lymphoma — the most common sub-type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma — responds well to treatment, it remains incurable.
In one day my world was turned upside down. Until my diagnosis, I thought little about illness, and less still about my mortality. For years I had followed a healthful regimen. I ate lots of fresh vegetables, consumed only small amounts of red meat, drank moderate amounts of alcohol, exercised regularly and enjoyed a satisfying personal and professional life. I was not a prime candidate for cancer. And yet there I was, in a cold and sterile examination room — a relatively young man with an incurable disease. My life would never be the same.
After nine months of treatment, CT spans indicated that I was in remission — a strange place to be. In remission, you are — for the most part — free of symptoms, but you are not “cured.” Somewhere between sickness and health, you are told to come back every six months for CT scans to determine if you have remained cancer-free — or not…In remission, you get to be like a defendant in court, waiting for what seems like a life or death verdict — not an easy place to be.
There is, of course, no perfect way for cancer patients to deal with such existential upheaval. Some people in remission become more religious. Others may change their occupations, learn a new language, take up a new hobby or decide to travel more frequently. Because I’m an anthropologist, I attempted to cope with remission’s uncertainties by revisiting my experiences as a young researcher in West Africa, where I spent many years as an apprentice to a traditional healer. That process eventually resulted in a book about my confrontation with cancer, “Stranger in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer, Sorcery and Healing,” in which I wrote about how West African ideas about illness and health helped me to confront cancer and cope with living in the sometimes confusing and always nebulous state between sickness and health — between what I like to call the village of the healthy and the village of the sick.