July 27, 2023

16 Candles, My Cancer and The Khmer Rouge?

If I had another blog that was not about cancer, I would probably write this post there.  But I don’t.  I’ve got this blog and am happy to have you as my readers.  I’m not writing about cancer today, so if that’s what a want to read about, check out the archives. If you’ve been living with cancer for a while, like me, and want to think about the world beyond, have a read:

In 1984 I was a 12-year-old sixth grader waiting for boobs and hoping someday to become Molly Ringwald kissing Jake Ryan on a table of over my birthday cake.  Sixteen Candles came out that year, and so did the Killing Fields.  One of these flicks became my all-time favorite movie.  Sorry Molly, you’re cool but you didn’t win.

The Killing Fields is based on the true story about an American reporter, played by Sam Waterson, and Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran.  It takes place in the 1970s in Cambodia during the reign of the Khemr Rouge, a communist regime that murdered over one-seventh of the population.

Growing up as a Jewish girl in Pittsburgh, I was no stranger to the concept of genocide; the Holocaust was all we talked about in Sunday school and Hebrew school.  I was also inundated with info about the oppression of Soviet Jews.  I had a Bat Mitzvah buddy in the USSR, a girl my age who was not allowed to practice her religion, and I drove daily past signs on neighborhood synagogues that said Save Soviet Jewry (though for years I thought they said Save Soviet Jewelery and imagined massive rummage sales taking place in basement social halls.)

Oppression was pounded into my head.  But it never took place in tropical climates.  It was about Russians waiting in breadlines or villages burnt to the ground in freezing Eastern Europe when my grandparents were still in their 20s.  Watching the Killing Fields blew my sheltered little mind.  The Khmer Rouge was shooting innocent people in the streets and murdering whole villages during the time I was 2 - 7 years old.

I watch the Killing Fields every five years or so.  With each viewing I learn more about the complexities or war, and the role reporters play in exposing atrocities.  And I’m reminded of my moral obligation as a citizen to be watchdog and agitator.

I feel a bit challenged (in a good way) by what to do with my professional life these days.  There’s a world beyond cancer and I want to use my time and smarts to impact it in the best way possible.  I read yesterday that an international tribunal found guilty the Khmer Rouge torture-chief Duch, and sentenced him to 35 years in prison.  It’s only a small, imperfect gesture in the impossible mission to bring justice to an incredibly unjust piece of history.  This summer, I’m denigrating my mind with reruns of Jersey Shore, eating farmer’s market food, and reading good books.  But mostly I’m brainstorming how to organize my life to be of use in big ways that matter.  I’ll keep you posted on what I figure out.

If you want to read about cancer care, check out my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s. If you want to learn more about the Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, check out this reading list from the Christian Science Monitor.

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