Nowhere to Stop | a short essay on place

I prefer the road to the left after crossing the Kanawha River. Today a spiral staircase appears out of the rock face, and the last step drops just in front of my car.

My eyes have seen these delicate tiers, must have seen them, thousands of times. I was conceived in these hills. Only now on this autumn afternoon do the little elevations register.

Gorgeous golden sandstone, sculpted beyond pure function into art, I realize I have missed them all of my life because they are nearly one with the rock, tight to the white line of the road.

One has to have distance to see them.

I promise myself I will return, slow down, but when I go back I can’t pause. There are people behind me. They are pushing me along.

Next time, I will make it happen.

Next time, I will look for a place to pull over and take a photograph, but next time I realize there is no place to stop. One side is rock and one side is guard rail. There is no margin.

Who built you?

I drive this Appalachian road up from downtown Charleston because I can. There are other ways but I choose this one every time. It winds in unsurpassed beauty each season across water, over railroad tracks, gently up and up into layers of gracious homes and luscious trees. Every yard travelled pulls me more deeply into a sensed but barely visible past. At one turn there is a tiny set of graves. I must stop, unless turning right. If I turn right I may miss the dead, so focused I am on the Children’s Consignment Fair sign or the Old Colony Real Estate sign.

I promise myself this time, this time, I will focus. I will see those stairs to the top. I am sure they must no longer connect to anything, the mansion they once served long gone. I am certain the stairway’s connection has dissolved.

As I pass, unable to stop – there is nowhere to stop – I see where they lead.

They still climb to a house. I see young, contemporary dark wood in shocking contrast to the one hundred year old organic mineral steps; this is not their builder’s home, but I recognize this place. It is the home where my father’s friend lay dying for years, unable to live in this world and unable to find purchase in the next.

When I passed on the road above I would avert my eyes from this place. The pain was alternately dull and ripping to be outside looking in. I stopped looking. I stopped seeing. I stopped passing on the road above.

The road below brought me the staircase. I drive as carefully as I can, the visual distractions now equal between the captivating winding stairs and the dangers of looking too long.

There are others behind me, and nowhere to stop.

The #PowerofMany: Confronting Cancer as a Community

There are many statistics that paint the picture of cancer’s advance on the people of West Virginia, but this is one of the most powerful:

Patient Visits to David Lee Cancer Center at CAMC (2004):  17,000
Patient Visits to David Lee Cancer Center at CAMC (2011):  39,000

When I was a little girl, “cancer” was a whispered word. I didn’t really understand at the time, but now I appreciate that people are loathe to say out loud the things they fear the most. There is good reason to fear cancer, especially if you live in southern West Virginia. The reality is that most residents of our region will either be diagnosed with some form of cancer or see someone they love diagnosed with the disease.

A few decades ago, that meant a lot of whispering.

Philosophers say that courage is not absence of fear, but mastery over it.Today, the fear is still real, but the courage is growing. The courage is growing because our knowledge is increasing, and our awareness of prevention as well as treatment options is growing exponentially. This time of year, for example, it’s common for friends of my generation to wince in mental anguish remembering how we used to slather ourselves in baby oil and lie on light-reflecting blankets to “tan” ourselves as teenagers. We know now how dangerous that is, and how it damages skin cells often to the point of abnormal growth. We have friends who received a melanoma diagnosis, most of whom survived with the outstanding treatment of oncologists and first-rate cancer care facilities.

At Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC), the most common cancers seen in women are breast, lung, uterine, colorectal, and kidney; in men, it is prostate, lung, colorectal, kidney, and urinary/bladder. There is a dramatic need to increase and improve outpatient services to these patients, and CAMC is rising to the challenge with its campaign to build a  new state-of-the-art facility for patients in our region.

The odds are, if you live in southern West Virginia, you or someone you love will be served by this center one day. If you are reading this from another part of the world, you may face similar odds for a cancer diagnosis. We all need to get involved in turning this ship around.

We don’t whisper about cancer any more, we say it out loud. We speak its name and we write about it to call it out of the shadows where we can see, as a community, what we plan to overcome.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis and pursuing treatment will, in most ways, always be about the power of ONE. One person’s body, one person’s choices, one person’s courage. Holding the hand of that patient, strengthening her in the process, increasing his choices, and improving treatment availablity is about the power of MANY.

During the social media awareness week (May 27 – June 2, 2012), information about the new cancer center and the Power of Many Campaign will be shared by the CAMC Health Systems and CAMC Foundation social media accounts.  You can simply repost or retweet from CAMC social media accounts, or create your own personal messages. Esse Diem invites you share your thoughts on this blog if you do not have your own; simply comment here or email me at and I would be pleased to send you some post ideas and stats.

(If you want to do something extra easy, just use the social share buttons here and pass this post along to your network.)

Thank you for any support you can lend to the cause. You can make a real difference in this community effort to change the course of a cancer diagnosis.