Who is the inspirational C.C. Scott?

Just where a cancer patient and family may need it most, as they enter the main door at Yale New Haven Smilow Cancer Center in Waterford, are these words in tall silvery letters: The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it. — C.C. Scott.

It's an apt and inspiring sentiment for those who are fearful or weary.

In the past year, four of my closest relatives — two by blood, two by marriage — have been treated for cancer, one of them for two different types. I'm grateful to say all four are doing well.

Four people in one year is a lot. It would be in any clan, but in ours, four of the five cancers are ones for which we have no known family history. And it's not all about living long enough for cancer to show up. One survivor is too young for the screening guidelines that would undoubtedly have found the cancer earlier. The strength of human spirit in that case has been humbling.

The other day, a family member who is being treated in Waterford got to ring the gong. If cancer has gotten close to you, you probably know what that means: that a treatment regimen is complete and the patient's fortitude is being rewarded with the well wishes of the cancer care team. In some cancer centers the patient gets to ring a bell. But the gong is more impressive, and even if the staff suggests hitting it gently, the final day of chemotherapy or radiation doesn't feel like a moment to go quietly. That gong gets walloped.

What's our family cancer story to you? Well, it's fairly recent, and reminds us that after decades without having to deal with it, now we do. It's hopeful, to say the least; all four have reason to be optimistic.

Yet it's also about the definition of family. A person who submits himself or herself to long-term chemotherapy or to daily radiation for weeks does so in the company of others on the same schedule. The company of strangers soon turns into the compassion and camaraderie of people in the same boat, on the same voyage. They may come to know things about each other that family does not hear.

Often, a patient's own family member is also there, especially when side effects ripen that are hard to take but may — please, oh please! — be a sign that the cancer is getting knocked around too. Spouses, offspring and even neighbors quickly become adept at practical assistance — rides to treatment — and moral support. The caring spills over and embraces other patients as well. In every cancer treatment waiting room I have been in, the mood has been authentically hopeful and upbeat, led by caregivers but also spread by patients and families.

Which brings us back to C.C. Scott, whose words set a tone right at the door. Who is she, or he? When and where did he or she say those words? Was there more?

I can't tell you. I haven't been able to find out, despite asking the Smilow staff and Hospice contacts and searching online with a Day colleague. That quote and only that one is spread throughout many cancer-related sites and, intriguingly, Forbes magazine online. No biography pops up, except for a Confederate soldier who I doubt is the same C.C. Scott.

Is C.C. Scott even a real person or perhaps a sort of avatar for the caring people whose work aims to heal the spirit if not fully cure the body?

While we all hope for a cure and some designer gene-therapy drug to work a miracle for our loved ones, today's treatments often work another way: turning an immediate health threat into a manageable chronic condition. We'd rather have them cancer-free, but we are grateful to have them cancer-controlled, if that's what's available.

The human spirit can gladly handle that.

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day editorial board. 

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