This is a slightly odd thing. It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong: I’m touched by it, it makes me feel both proud and humble, it inspires me to work harder for this movement. But it is slightly odd. And it’s making me think more carefully about what it means to live an honorable humanist life, a life that’s worth being honored for.
A brief bit of background. In October of 2012 I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. I got lucky, if getting cancer can ever be “lucky”: the cancer was Stage 1, caught early, and they’re pretty sure they got all of it. I didn’t need chemo or radiation. All I needed was to get my uterus and ovaries cut out, and then to recover from the whole “having a major organ cut out” thing. I do have a genetic condition, Lynch Syndrome, which greatly increases my risk of getting certain cancers (including this one). Emotionally this feels a bit like having a time bomb in my body, but on a practical level, it mostly just means I have to get a colonoscopy once a year and get the pre-cancerous doodads scooped out before they turn ugly.
So that’s the first bit of background. The second bit: the Foundation Beyond Belief is once again supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation’s big annual fundraiser. Last year, the first year of the FBB’s participation in the Light the Night Walk, they raised $430,000 dollars. This was the largest amount ever raised by a first-year non-corporate team, and the fourth largest amount raised by any team in the nation in 2012, including corporate teams. As awesome as this was, they’re hoping to outdo themselves this year. Now that the atheist community is familiar with this event and the structures are in place, they’re raising their sights to a goal of $500,000.
Last year, they named Christopher Hitchens as their International Team’s Honored Hero. As someone whose atheism and cancer were both very public, Hitchens was an obvious figure around whom the community could mobilize for this event.
This year, they’ve named me.
I am both proud and humble that they thought me worthy of this honor. But I’ll be honest: I’m also slightly puzzled by it. When I first heard about it, I kept thinking, “Why am I being honored for getting cancer?” I mean, it’s not like getting cancer is an accomplishment. It’s not something I made happen—it’s something that happened to me. If I could have avoided it, you better believe I would have.
But when I think about it more carefully, I don’t think I’m being honored for having gotten cancer.
Thus begins my latest column for The Humanist magazine, On Being Honored for Having Gotten Cancer. To read more, read the rest of the piece. And if you want to take part in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation’s Light the Night Walk under the Foundation Beyond Belief banner, here’s how to get started.