Cancer in all forms...
When cancer entered my life, I was not even old enough to know what it was, let alone what it would do, or the role it would play in my life. My big sister Michelle was 3 years old when the doctors diagnosed her with Leukemia, and gave her 3 weeks to live, she lived three years. It was a hard fought battle but one that left an indelible impression on all our lives. We realized from an early age that death and cancer could happen to anyone at any time, young or old, we all knew, we were not immortal. None of us fooled ourselves or convinced ourselves we could not or would not die. We all knew that we were all, that we all, live on borrowed time.
Death happens, it is a depressing, life altering, personal-deeply personal, experience, and an extremely painful process, for some more than others, and is inevitable. Unlike many of our peers, we knew firsthand, what thankfully for some; seemed improbable if not impossible. Death when you are a teenager seems fictional and or unreal, that is, until it becomes real. Nothing like one’s own personal experience with something, to teach you a little something, about the harsh reality of one of life’s most difficult experiences.
For me, it made me aware of my life, those people in my life, my family, friends, and loved ones. It made me want to cherish and treasure every moment on this earth. It made me want to make memories and keep memories, to share traditions, swap stories, get together and celebrate, not just on holidays or birthdays, but as often as we can or are capable of doing.
Cancer and death have resurfaced many times throughout my life over the years, but perhaps none more impactful than the death of my father. My father had been diagnosed 20 years prior to his death with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he beat it the first time, but unlike the first time, the second time it was on the outside of his body. Most of us have read or know or experienced cancer in some form or another, or know someone who has experienced or been affected by it. That’s one thing about cancer, it does not discriminate.
The thing about this time, that made it more difficult for me, was that while I was aware the cancer was ravaging and destroying my dad’s body, having to see it do so from the outside, made it infinitely more ‘real.’ Seeing him every day, being with him every day, caring for him every day, knowing no matter how hard I tried to take care of him and his needs, cancer was killing my father, and I was helpless to stop it.
It was hard not to want to feel sorry for myself. Here I had this amazing man that chose to love me, chose to love me and my sisters, who did his very best to love and raise us as though we were his ‘real’ children, while at the same time loving our mother more than I’ve ever seen anyone love someone, while always doing his best to provide for all of us. He even took side jobs, while sick from chemo and radiation, to buy a station wagon for my mom, so she could get us all around.
The point is, here was this amazing human being, that I loved, respected, admired, and adored, and I had to somehow come to peace with letting him go. Call me selfish, but I just did not want to let him go. I didn’t care about ‘a better place’ or how God had plans for him. I didn’t care about any of that, this was my daddy, and I didn’t want him anywhere else but with us.
My dad was not famous, he was not an actor or movie star, and he was not an icon or hero, to anyone but his friends and family. His life and his death may not have been what has brought awareness to a horrible disease that has robbed and continues to rob so many lives, too often, too soon, with such wanton disregard. The fact that in my father’s desperation to rid himself of the outward reminder of the cancer, that he took a kitchen knife and cut it from his face, speaks volumes as to what this insidious disease can do to a person. I was frantically picking up the pieces of his tumor and cleaning up by the time he was regaining consciousness. I knew he had a pulse, and seeing as he had a DNR, the only thing I could think to do or thought to do, was clean up, before my mother saw any of it.
I knew then it was time to say goodbye, not just because I knew he had lost so much blood, too much blood, the hospice nurse informed me, but because I knew what our father had done was done by a man desperate to end his pain. As to physical pain, I sense that was nothing in comparison to the emotional pain and psychological pain he was in, especially once the cancer had metastasized to his brain and hindered his ability to speak.
Cancer all forms, all kinds, affects and impacts everyone. Thankfully, and gratefully, it is not always a death sentence. Early detection is essential, in combination with faith, support, and a strong will to live, along with proper treatment, are all ways in which we can combat this dreaded disease. So while my father’s life and death may not be what brings or brought awareness to cancer on the scale that a famous person’s battle with cancer does or did, it brought an everlasting awareness to me and my family, friends, and loved ones. As it did when it stole my sister Michelle, my great grandma, my aunt Denise, and the countless others whose lives it pervades, and invades.
Cancer robbed me of many things; memories and time with my loved ones, but it cannot and has not robbed me of my hope or my faith. I have faith and hope that maybe one day a cure can be found for a horrible disease that affects and infects so many. I love my dad, we all loved him, and we miss him every day. I don’t blame God, anyone else, or anything else-I blame cancer. I don’t question or wonder why him, why her, why them…
Why anyone for that matter? Nothing about cancer is fair-cancer doesn’t care if you’re famous, or if you’re a baby, or if you’re needed or someone needs you, or loves you. Unfortunately, cancer is an equal opportunity employer.
I am eternally grateful for the time I was able to share with those I have lost, to cancer. While they may have lost their battle, many more are fighting back and winning their battles, and it is for them and their family, friends, and loved ones that I will continually pray for, and for all the others doing their part to bring awareness to and help find a cure for the dreaded disease. I will never lose faith or hope, just as I will never stop praying for a cure.