There is something very courageous about what Gord Downie is doing. Despite living with a terminal diagnosis Gord Downie is performing concerts all across Canada, giving Canadians not only a glimpse of one of our all-time favorite bands but also demonstrating that the choices left to those with this aggressive cancer are not just to give up or assume a miracle cure.
As a minister I have witnessed a shift in the way people process this dreaded disease. At one time people would just give up and who could blame them? Until you have walked in someone else’s shoes you simply do not know how you would react. Thus families and friends, then, would not mention the “c” word. There would be this strange culture of denial as things just took their course. More recently though a shift has occurred with a new spirit of optimism for people living with their diagnosis. Nothing is hidden. That is clearly a more healthy option for all concerned. The one worrisome aspect of this shift is the cult of the positive attitude. While clearly a more positive attitude is preferable to a pessimistic one is it really fair to expect, indeed demand, a positive attitude from someone challenged by cancer?
Why can’t a person living with cancer be sad, down and worried? Moreover, if the person does feel this way this new cult of positive energy and optimism has a way of silencing these honest feelings and worse, making those who feel pessimistic feel that if their cancer worsens it is their fault for failing to be “positive”. I loathe this blaming of the victim. Death is real, the diagnosis you receive is real, a doctor would not tell you the odds are poor if it were not so. One can try to be positive, do everything possible to be cured, keep living as much as possible, and still live with honest feelings of sadness and concern.
Gord Downie is not giving up. Not even close. But if you read this account of the first concert on this Canadian tour it is obvious he is not hiding his feelings either.
That’s what I truly admire about Gord Downie and his story, that he is being open about the diagnosis, that he is not hiding the reality of his illness, that he is allowing himself to be open with his feelings and yet, he is not giving up. Gord Downie is going to keep living, keep singing, keep performing, until he can’t.
I have mixed feelings about this tour. I so want this to be everything Gord Downie wants it to be. I want the final concert on CBC to blow the roof off, be a memorable experience for everyone. But I also know the realities of cancer and a terminal diagnosis like this takes his toll. I want Gord Downie to know that if his body won’t allow him to finish this tour it is OK. His fans, his family, his friends, they will understand.
We gonna do the best we can 'til we can't - Willie Dee Wimberly