As I watched Alex Trabek publicly deliver an emotionally-charged commitment to battle and beat the stage 4 pancreatic cancer with which he’s recently been diagnosed, it occured to me that, in situations such as this, hope and intellect sometimes play competing roles.
At the time that I made it to the final round of tryouts for Jeopardy! in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in 2003, I had but one nameable fear: that at some point during my life I may be unable to think clearly.
It was a fear that had been with me ever since I could remember thinking about thinking. Whether it came as the result of the mental illness with which I struggle, a devastating accident, a traumatic brain incident, or an insidious condition that seeped in slowly under the guise of aging, it’s always been the most terrifying thing I can imagine.
Aside from my lifelong battle with depression, though, I was pretty carefree at the time. The rhythm of the waves, the gentle trade winds, the vibrant hibiscus, and the near-daily rainbows made it easy. What unusually little fear I experienced while hang-gliding, skydiving, swimming with sharks, and challenging the formidable Hawaiian surf in various ways only positively supported my excited enjoyment of those activities.
It wasn’t until I was hospitalized with an acute attack of pancreatitis in 2011 that a second fear began to develop in my mind. It was discovered during a scoping procedure that I have pancreatic divisum, a congenital defect that results from the development of two inferior pancreatic ducts rather than one normal duct.
During that four-day hospital stay, I was kept on generously prescribed medication to deal with the excruciating pain that radiated from my core in waves. After a series of examinations and discussions, I was also diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis and given suggestions for how to manage it. Finally, I was informed of the increased risk for…