Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
October 2001 #1

Tumor, terrorist attack expose vulnerabilities
of the body politic

by Barbara Anderson

(A version of this also appeared as an "As You Were Saying" column in
the Boston Herald on Sunday, October 28th)

The Salem Evening News
Tuesday, October 23, 2001

I figure the odds of my getting anthrax are less than my odds of getting a carcinoid tumor in my lung, which, as my friend, Chip, found on the Internet, are about 0.20 in five million.

So I'm fearlessly opening all my get-well cards, at least those whose return address I recognize. Having met the lung thing at the same time as the nation met its terrorist attack, I have some perspective on the last few weeks and probably on the rest of my life and America's. If you like, I'll share it with you.

There are two useless expressions that I've never been inclined to use myself, but which I've heard all too often. One's a statement: "It can't happen here;" the other's a question: "Why me?"

There is no earthly reason that Americans should be exempt from assault or the evil that people in other countries live with every day. We've been lucky, mostly because until someone shrunk the world, honey, we've been more geographically isolated from our enemies than, say, Israel is in the Middle East, or 60 years ago, France was from Germany.

Now it is almost as easy to cross the Atlantic as it once was to ride a tank into Belgium, especially if the enemy employs terrorists or viruses instead of armies. And, by the way, our government could someday go bad like governments in other nations have, and this is why some of us practice eternal resistance, oppose gun control, and are glad freedom-loving George W. Bush is the president at this particular time in history.

There is also no earthly reason why I should still be alive when some of my friends my age are dead. As a young doctor told me after an emergency hysterectomy nine years ago, after I'd balked at using "unnatural" hormone therapy, "the natural thing is to die, now that nature no longer has a use for you."

So I was prepared to die this month; after all, "Why not"? If I'd decided to ignore my odd symptoms, if my primary care physician hadn't sent me for a chest x-ray and his associate immediately admitted me to the hospital, if my surgeon hadn't been so skillful, I could still have hardly complained on my way out of not having had a good life in a great country.

It is important to note that there is no special reason that I should get a lung tumor either. I never smoked, so my lungs were the last body parts I was worried about. The disease anticipated from my family history would be heart-related, and the dangers I have feared, depending on where I was living at the time, were poisonous snakes, earthquake and Communist revolution.

Also, my tumor had nothing to do with second-hand smoke at the Marblehead VFW, neighborhood pest control, or emissions from the Salem power plant; I am adding to the North Shore cancer incidence for no particular reason at all. According to my doctors and the Internet, "Lung carcinoids are not associated with smoking or with any known chemicals in the environment or workplace."

The good news is they rarely spread and usually don't return after surgery, which in my case was completely successful and accompanied by excellent care at Salem Hospital. Lucky me.

Lucky America. Despite no longer being geographically isolated, we are uniquely qualified to deal with just about anything, as we are learning once again about ourselves. It did cross my feverish mind on Sept. 11 that we have lost our way and our identity over the past few decades, and perhaps could not deal with the trauma. But by the time the fever vanished, so had all doubt that America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Those who died in the terrorist attack could not ask, "Why me?" It might have been many others of us instead.

The first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center was the same flight I took two months earlier to visit my grandchildren. Or one victim could have missed the flight, then been diagnosed with a less curable cancer than mine a week later.

Life is like that -- limited and uncertain. This is why we must enjoy it as much as we can, without living in fear of our mailbox, not wasting our time asking "Why me?" and insisting that terrible things "can't happen here" when in fact our luck can't and couldn't hold forever.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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