“I can’t believe that! said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use in trying,” she said: “one can’t believe in impossible things.”
~Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Yes, in today’s rational society it has become almost impossible, as Alice declares, to believe in the impossible. After all, what we see in the natural world is exactly what we get; nothing more, nothing less. In many ways society has taken away our ability to dream when it comes to the impossible. When school funding hits a shortfall, the first things to go are classes in the humanities. I mean what good is a degree in English, Art, or Philosophy going to do for someone in today’s tech driven world? The consensus seems to be absolutely nothing. This attitude toward dreaming has ramifications beyond the ability to imagine and, in my opinion, the inability to believe in the impossible has deep consequences for those facing chronic illness.
One of the things I loved most about reading as a kid was the ability to escape my reality. I loved to picture myself deep within the imaginary worlds created in books; I longed to be part of something bigger than myself and the small part of the world I occupied.
One of the things I loved most about reading as a kid was the ability to escape my reality. I loved to picture myself deep within the imaginary worlds created in books; I longed to be part of something bigger than myself and the small part of the world I occupied. I wanted to travel, to experience the fantastic, and live a life beyond the walls around me. Even now as an adult, I find myself melting into the pages of a book; becoming fully engulfed in the worlds created by the great authors. I have lived so many different lives, faced so many seemingly insurmountable dangers, and come away with experiences that I could never have in the reality in which I occupy. This is the beauty of great literature, it can take the reader beyond their reality and teach them lessons that might never be experienced in their lifetime. In essence, great literature gives the reader the ability to dream of the impossible and make it all the more plausible.
I think that Lewis Carroll would agree with this sentiment. After sharing with Alice her absolutely unbelievable age, the White Queen tells Alice her inability to believe in the impossible is because she hadn’t much practice (Carroll 207). For the Queen it was simple to believe in the impossible because:
“When I was your [Alice] age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” (Carroll 207).
This is the key, we need practice believing in the impossible, and this practice comes from reading great literature that sweeps our imagination to incredible places. If we have been engaged in the practice of believing the impossible since childhood, it becomes second nature to us when we reach adulthood; the love of the impossible is deeply imbedded in our psyche and we seek it out at every opportunity.
I am so thankful for a childhood that allowed me to dream impossible dreams and believe that the impossible can really happen. This ability has helped me make it through an impossible illness. When I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, it had already progressed beyond what my doctor could possibly treat. It had invaded my liver and blood tests indicated that it may have also metastasized to the bone.
When I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, it had already progressed beyond what my doctor could possibly treat. It had invaded my small bowel, liver, and blood tests indicated that it had also metastasized to the bone.
A capsule endoscopy revealed that the cancer gained significant ground in the small bowel, making any form of treatment impossible. OctreoScans revealed that the cancer had invaded both lobes of the liver, and an ultrasound revealed that it had also overrun the gall bladder. Based on this assessment, the doctor said the best we could do was hope that the lanreotide injection slowed down the progression and we could lower the biomarkers by zapping the tumors in the liver with radiation.
My husband and I chose for me to undergo two radioembolizations; each targeting a portion of the liver, and the preliminary blood work indicated that we had some success in lowering the biomarkers, making it possible to contain the disease with just the lanreotide. Despite this good news, I continued to suffer from severe abdominal pain and my quality of life was hampered as a result. I had to believe that there was more we could do, I just needed to find the right doctor. Honestly, I credit my love of reading for allowing me to imagine that what I could see was not the only reality I could rely on; there had to be more that could be done and I dared to dream that one day I would no longer suffer from the abdominal pain and could experience a full life once again.
Never become complacent and accept the word of one doctor. Keep on seeking. Keep on trying. Keep on dreaming because it is through dreams that the impossible can become a glorious new reality.
I am so glad that I was able to dream because it kept us moving forward. Less than six months after the radioembolization, we were able to see a group of specialists in New Orleans. After a week’s worth of scans, we met with a team of professionals who reviewed my case. One of the general surgeons was sure he could perform a surgery that would debulk the tumors, locate the primary, and give me the relief I was so desperately seeking. And, sure enough, after a nine hour surgery the doctor was able to remove almost 200 tumors from the small bowel, liver, lymph nodes, and gall bladder, as well as help to alleviate bowel problems by removing a significant portion of the large intestine. While recovery has been a bit difficult and taken longer than I would have liked, post-surgery blood work indicates that we have the cancer under control! In fact, the doctor says that the numbers indicate that I can be declared has having no evidence of disease! Wow! Dreams do come true, that is if we dare to dream them in the first place.
It breaks my heart that the school system can be so quick to remove humanities classes from the curriculum when funding is tight. To me, these classes are crucial to having the ability to live a full life; a life made possible because one dares to dream of the impossible.
In essence, great literature gives the reader the ability to dream of the impossible and make it all the more plausible.
For those of us with chronic illnesses, the ability to dream gives us the drive we need to keep seeking better treatment to improve our quality of life. We need this ability or we are in danger of becoming complacent and not seeking out a treatment that could have a significant impact in managing our particular disease. Never give up dreaming. Never become complacent and accept the word of one doctor. Keep on seeking. Keep on trying. Keep on dreaming because it is through dreams that the impossible can become a glorious new reality.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. New York: Barnes and Noble. 2004. Print.