Before I get started, let me apologize for partially paraphrasing something the immoral Jon Stewart said years ago on the Daily Show. Let me also say that I never wanted to write about politics, I never wanted to turn my life into “What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Die;” I really just wanted a nice, standard, boring, middle-class existence with a wife, 2.3 kids, and a nice house in the suburbs. That’s it. Not too much to ask, but a neurosurgical intervention for a tumor in 2002 left me with significant brain damage and other, shall we say, option-limiting issues. A hard part of life that’s never adequately taught — that we really need to be teaching kids from day 1 of kindergarten is, “A massive part of life is learning to adapt to impossible situations you never thought would happen to you.” But that’s another story for another time.

In my alter-ego as a cancer survivor, I’ve encountered people — not many, but some — who will, for various reasons, forego some form of treatment or another. In some cases; this is quite justified — tumor’s aren’t always surgically accessible, some people have bad reactions to chemo, sometimes there’s vastly diminishing returns for treatment, etc. Occasionally, though, survivors just don’t like this treatment option or that one. As someone who got ejected from a promising immunotherapy clinical trial, I got a nasty lesson; once a treatment option is removed from the table, it never, ever comes back. And your job, as a survivor, is like the early stages of dating — explore all the options, keep all the options open for as long as you can, and, when you do commit, don’t hold back.

I bring this up because, in the wake of multiple mass shootings (we’re at five days since Dayton, and we’re at five mass shootings, so it looks like my terribly depressing estimate is going to come true), it seems like we, as a nation, are going down the (doomed) route of cancer patients who dislike a treatment and arbitrarily refuse it. Most (not all) of those patients are not really around at the moment. I got extraordinarily lucky in that, post-surgery, I became eligible for an experimental chemo trial. I got more options than the average cancer patient. And I worked extraordinarily hard to keep those options on the table.

To tie this together and relate it to our larger national picture, it feels as if we’re arbitrarily dismissing options. We don’t gun control? Fine. We don’t want to talk about improving quality of mental healthcare and access thereto? Fine. We don’t want to talk about hate groups, racism, and violent crime in this country? Fine. We’re going to talk about 30–50 wild hogs, and keeping you comfortable, as a country.

I honestly don’t know if gun control, prosecuting people more aggressively, investigating credible threats more intensely, or economic/educational programs would be the answer. What it feels like, though, is that we’re going to refuse to even have a discussion about having a discussion. In the meantime, five Americans have died in mass shootings since Dayton. Our collective inaction is starting to have a death toll.

One of the hardest aspects of cancer survival is accepting the fact that your life, as you knew it, is dead and gone, and nothing can bring it back. You have to adapt and change, or you will go with it. We’re never going to bring back the past, even though some idiots are trying their best to make lynch mobs and plagues (anti-vaxxers, looking at you) the “New normal.” What we need to decide — right now, before another preventable death occurs — is whether America changes and grows, or dies with the past. And to do that, from what I can tell, we need to have a conversation, and not arbitrarily take any options off of the table just because it’s what the now-Russian-funded NRA wants. And, while we’re having that conversation, we need to be mindful that the death toll is mounting.

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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