The acquisition of wisdom is seldom much fun. The happiness part comes later, once the pain subsides.

Take me, the woman stepping around town now with a smile wrapped twice around my face, ending with a knot behind my ear. I’m idiotically happy. Why? Because I’m still alive. Because surgery saved me for another day. Because I’m Canadian, which means I partake in what Americans call, in dread and loathing, “socialised medicine”. Because, if I still lived in the US, I’d be slowly dying now, too poor to save my life even if I knew how sick I was.

In theory, of course, I knew that our medical system, although not the world’s best compared to, say, that of France, is a far more harmonious interplay of needs and expertise than Americans’ addiction to what they think is “free enterprise” for doctors, researchers, and medical entrepreneurs, and “free choice” for patients—hah! Like anybody else, I watch Michael Moore.

In reality, there’s nothing like triple-whammy surgery, six days in the hospital, and six weeks of baby-steps recovery to bring home the truth: medicine is not politics, dear American friends—it’s a resource basic to life. In a world as polluted and harried as ours, every one of us is going to need a medical miracle sooner or later. Mine was sooner.

It may come as a surprise to read here an exhortation to anyone over fifty, or fat, dragged out, and hollow-eyed as I was, to visit a doctor and ask for the new colon-cancer screening. This experience has taught me—again—that health and harmony are synonymous. Think of your life in its time as a piece of music, where allopathic (Western) medicine plays the spectacular bits on one staff, and complementary medicine and healthy living come in with the obbligatos and the chords on other staffs.

From the editor of Immanence, some would no doubt expect staunch adherence to naturopathy, clean living, and food-is-medicine principles—perhaps even some distrust of the allopathic medical model. True enough, after years of being unable to afford any medical care whatsoever while living in the US, I’d fallen out of the habit of seeing an allopathic doctor with any regularity, figuring I knew best, anyway, and so far, so good. Hadn’t I beaten fibromyalgia and assorted ailments into submission with naturopathy and naturally good living? Surely, if I tried just a little harder and maybe worked a little less, I could lose those bags under my eyes and that stubborn belly?

The results of the screening stunned me. Me, a cancer patient? My self-image crumbled in twenty seconds. This body couldn’t be mine, surely? There must be a mistake! A mix-up!

I’d been harboring dumb beliefs like “I’m not the cancer type” and “I’ve built up a powerful immune system.” Wrong! I was sick. Looking back, I recognise that cancer has been going on for years, the signs so incremental that I could explain them away. Every time someone tells me how much better I look now, I realise afresh that, like a betrayed lover, at some level I was the first to know, but at the mundane level I was the last to find out.

Please, take this screening. Don’t let beliefs about yourself stand in your way. Don’t let the politics of medicine interfere with the best care for your body. And if there’s a new-fangled, non-invasive test for cancer or the other diseases that plague our society, get in line for it. Chances are, I’ll be in that line-up with you.

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