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Cancer And Addiction: Can You Compare The Two?

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This summer I got an urgent voicemail message from my friend Florence. It was followed by several, even more urgent text messages; she had to see me as soon as possible, could we meet for brunch?

A few days later as I was sitting across from her and over mimosas, she broke the news; she had just been diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer.  It stole my breath. How could this happen? Florence is like me, committed to fitness, flea markets and fun; just a working mom, trying to provide the best life she can for her young daughter. And now she was in for a fight unlike any she’d ever known.  But she’s nothing if not determined and after a summer of grueling chemo treatments and radiation that made her luscious hair turn thin, dry and fall out, she looks like she’s turned a corner. But it was a horrible time as she thought about her mortality constantly, asking her doctors, God and friends the same three-letter question… Why?

So today, I wondered what Florence, and so many others, would make of Martin Sheen’s comments about his son Charlie; likening his battle with drug addiction to a form of cancer?

Personally, I do believe addiction is a disease but there’s something about this that struck me as odd. Unlike Charlie Sheen, Florence is not a big TV star with unlimited resources. She did not have a personal assistant or untold millions with which to fight this cancer. Florence, with her limited resources, dragged her weary butt to work on the days she wasn’t puking her guts out. She marshaled her friends, put together a plan, and fought as though her life depended on it because it did. But to compare what I have seen her and countless others go through, worrying about not just whether they’ll live or die but the quality of that life to a guy who won’t even publicly acknowledge he has a problem seems patently unfair.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying Charlie Sheen doesn’t need help; clearly he does.  But with each story more outrageous than the one before he’s squandering much of the good will he once enjoyed.  If he knows he has a problem it’s not one that he wants to change, even admitting that he went back to drinking because he was bored.

I’m not going to be too tough on Martin Sheen though, he’s a father watching his son slowly destroy himself. Like the families of so many addicts, he sounds weary, resigned to the fact that there really is only so much they can do. He knows it will be more of the same until Charlie recognizes he has a problem and gets help.

But therein lies the issue. For Charlie and his two million bucks per episode, life is a giant open bar, with drugs, girls and cars, each night a chance to outdo the last. Florence would eat a bail of hay everyday for the rest of her life if it would ensure she would remain cancer free; to see an endless supply of sunsets, to snuggle with her daughter, to laugh with friends over mimosas, to love.

Charlie Sheen has so much (including the love and support of his family) and is doing so little with it. Not so for Florence for whom each day is a gift and she will not squander it. I hope Charlie Sheen gets help but more than that I hope he sees he needs it. In the meantime, I’ll spend my time and energy on people who will use and appreciate it, like my friend Florence.

But what do you think of Martin Sheen comparing his son’s addiction to a form of cancer? Have you had experiences with addiction? What did you do?

 

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