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SUPERHEROES

9 March 2006

I am almost at a loss for words.

When I heard the news today that Dana Reeve had lost her battle with lung cancer, I wanted to rush to the computer, to write a glowing tribute to this woman whom I have admired for so long.

The problem is that I really know very little about Dana Reeve.  Certainly not enough to speak knowledgeably about her for the length of a journal entry.

When Christopher Reeve, the man who was Superman, flew over that horse and ended up paralyzed, you just knew that his marriage wasn't going to last long.  He was married to a beautiful woman, herself a performer, and under the best of circumstances, Hollywood marriages are fraught with all sorts of problems which end up in the divorce court.

But Dana Reeve wasn't like that.  I'm sure there were days -- lots of them -- when she wanted to give up, but we never saw her as anything but a devoted wife, who smiled and loved her husband and helped him cope with a life that was significantly different from what they both expected.

As the months stretched into years and no cure was forthcoming, my admiration for her grew.  It was ten years from the time he was stricken until his death.  Chris joked that they were putting the "in sickness and in health" part of their vows to the acid test. 

She, along with her husband, took on the cause of stem cell research, attempting to put a face on the problems that could possibly be ameliorated by research using unused stem cells.

DWReeve_111804.jpg (22471 bytes)When Chris died, she was as graceful as the widow as Jackie Kennedy was, but more active.  She vowed to continue the fight in support of stem cell research.  She gave interviews.  She campaigned for John Kerry. She brought her son along and we saw the amazing person that Dana and Christopher Reeve had raised, a young man, now 13, who seemed to be a kind, thoughtful, intelligent person who spoke about his father with a maturity that young people much older do not have.

And then came Dana's own diagnosis.

A non-smoker, she had developed a virulent form of lung cancer.  It is reported that when she received her diagnosis, she felt the message that "life is a journey" and she felt she had had enough of a journey in her lifetime, but once again, she would shine the spotlight on a health issue.  I suspect that in the coming weeks, people are going to hear more about lung cancer than they have in a long time.

I did not realize, for example, that 20,000-25,000 non-smokers in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with lung cancer and that most of those are women...and that the survival rate to 5 years is relatively low, as compared to breast cancer's 88% survival rate.  According to one report I saw today, lung cancer kills more people than breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer combined, yet the funding for lung cancer is significantly lower.  From 1992 to 2004, for example, lung cancer received $33 million while breast cancer received $1.6 billion.

Part of this is because, like AIDS, there seems to be an attitude that if you develop certain diseases you "deserve them" because of engaging in life-threatening behaviors.  But that attitude doesn't take into account people like Dana Reeve, who did everything right and still developed the most virulent form of the disease. 

(It also doesn't take into account the millions of people who develop AIDS who have never engaged in any risky behavior whatsoever.)

Dana Reeve's death will strengthen the argument about controlling second hand smoke.  There is already speculation that she may have developed cancer from performing as a singer in smoky bars prior to her marriage.

Whatever is the immediate result of her death, her legacy is that she was an inspiration to so many people.

"The brightest light has gone out," said comedian Robin Williams, one of the couple's closest friends. "We will forever celebrate her loving spirit."

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The Reeve family was truly a family of superheroes.  If Chris Reeve will forever live in our memories as Superman, Dana Reeve was certainly Wonder Woman.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

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Together again, now and forever

 

 
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3/01/06