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“Things changed after that between me and Mark… I followed him around at work, sitting in while he examined patients. He had been a bit of a prodigy when we were in college. After his father developed a tumor, Mark, who was pre-med, started studying cancer with an intensity that convinced many of his friends that his goal was to find a cure in time to save his father. As it turned out, his father didn’t have cancer. But Mark kept on with his cancer studies. His interest was not in fact in oncology — in finding a cure — but in cancer education and prevention. By the time he entered medical school, he had created, with another student, a series of college courses on cancer and coauthored The Biology of Cancer Sourcebook, the text for a course that was eventually offered to tens of thousands of students. He cowrote a second book, Understanding Cancer, that became a bestselling university text, and he continued to lecture throughout the United States on cancer research, education, and prevention. ‘The funny thing is, I’m not really interested in cancer,’ Mark told me. ‘I’m interested in people’s response to it. A lot of cancer patients and survivors report that they never really lived till they got cancer, that it forced them to face things, to experience life more intensely. What you see in family practice is that families just can’t afford to be superficial with each other anymore once someone has cancer. Corny as it sounds, what I’m really interested in is the human spirit — in how people react to stress and adversity. I’m fascinated by the way people fight back, by how they keep fighting their way to the surface.’ Mark clawed at the air with his arms. What he was miming was the struggle to reach the surface through the turbulence of a large wave.”

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From the eighth chapter (“Against Dereliction”) of William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life.

The chapter opens with Conrad, writing in The Mirror of the Sea: “The ocean has the conscienceless temper of a savage autocrat spoiled by too much adulation.”

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