There’s a word that in this day and age carries so much weight with it, people react almost the same way they do when they hear someone died.
Admittedly, in the near past, a death sentence is pretty much what it meant. Today, though, with new medicine, new technology, and better medical officials, survival rates are higher than they used to be.
That doesn’t mean it’s not still incredibly scary.
Growing up in this generation when cancer is such a predominate problem, and research is such a predominate advocacy cause, subconsciously I guess I have always categorized people into three different groups.
- Those who battled cancer.
- Those who had a family member battle cancer.
- The lucky ones who simply heard about those who experienced it.
I realize this means I leave out people who are not affected by cancer at all, but I don’t believe those people exist.
For years, I was in the last group. I heard about cancer all the time. Somebody got diagnosed, somebody passed away, somebody’s family member was diagnosed or passed away, or somebody survived. I was never close to it, though. I just knew it was terrible. Those people and their families had joined a group, a club if you will, of people who really knew how it was, and anyone who didn’t experience it first hand or extremely close, couldn’t truly understand what it meant. I knew I couldn’t understand it, and hoped I never would.
While I was in middle school, that changed somewhat when my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was younger, I was very close to her; with three sons, she always called me the daughter she never had. When I found out about her diagnosis, at first all I could think was, “Wow, I’m so sorry.” The same response I would give to anyone who found out someone they cared about was diagnosed. It didn’t take long though for it to hit me, my aunt might die, and it broke me. However, as her treatment progressed and her, my uncle, and cousins seemed to see it rather as something to forget, I became detached. I still wasn’t in the club, but I wasn’t an outsider anymore either. I was on the fence between the second group of people and the third. My aunt survived without incident and now it’s like an afterthought. Therefore, I still didn’t consider myself as someone who KNOWS about cancer.
September 15, 2016 I got a phone call from my dad while I was at work. For a few days before, I had been feeling a sense that I really needed to call him to check in, but school and work kept making me forget. So without hesitation, even though I was in an appointment, I answered.
“Hey baby, what are you doing?’
“I’m at work.”
“Oh, you’re at work. Well I was just calling to tell you, there’s no reason to worry, I’m fine, but I’m headed to Little Rock to the hospital.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, my blood pressure is just high because I haven’t been taking my medicine like I should.”
“Okay, well, will you let me know what they say, and is someone going with you?”
“Ms. Ann is taking me, and yep, I sure will, love you baby.”
“I love you, too, daddy.”
It wasn’t a blood pressure issue.
CT scans discovered a mass in his lung (he is a heavy smoker), and a spot on his brain. My daddy had been hiding from me, my brother, and most of his friends and family. I found out for almost a week, he had been having balance issues, almost not able to walk, and falling down. He had been in the local hospital for two whole days before he allowed someone to contact my brother and me, but when he was transported to Little Rock, Auntie Ann forced him to call us.
At first, there was a part of me that said it could be an infection, or an abscess, it wasn’t 100% cancer. But the rest of me knew. When the sure diagnosis came through (stage 4 metastatic), I was already a mess, but if I thought my aunt getting cancer broke me, well this outright annihilated me. However, because my parents are divorced, all the decisions, all the information, all the responsibility came down on me, my daddy, my brother, and my uncle.
I had joined the club, and I would’ve given a world and a half if I could give my membership back, or shred it, or burn it, or destroy it in any way. When I was on the outside, I knew cancer was bad. I knew families go through one of the hardest things they could ever imagine.
But I didn’t know how it felt to consider never being
walked down the aisle by my father, or never having him see or hold his grandchildren, or never having him see me receive my college degree. I didn’t know how it felt to consider never going fishing or squirrel hunting with him again. I didn’t know how it felt to feel absolutely helpless and scared, trying to make sense of what the doctors were saying and trying to make the right decisions and what it meant for daddy and his life and his future, as well as my and my family’s life and future. I didn’t know how it felt to feel absolutely heartbroken because if I was feeling this way, how the hell did my daddy feel? The worst was the gut wrenching desire to take it all away and make it all better and knowing I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
In 2016, it is estimated there will be 1,685,210 new cancer cases. That’s 1,685,210 people who will join the club, not counting their families and loved ones who will join simply by proximity. When something traumatic happens, it’s easy to feel and believe that we are alone. But it’s not true. This is just my experience and my view of a situation so horrible, I’m not sure how we don’t call it an epidemic. Even though I’ve now experienced it, I still can’t imagine what other families feel, and what they deal with. I just know it gives a whole new meaning of strong. It gives a whole new meaning of perseverence. It gives me a whole new sense of purpose in life.
So the next time I here someone say they are dealing with cancer, may it be personally or in their family, I won’t think, “Wow, I’m so sorry,” I’ll probably just break down and cry right along with them.
I’ve joined the club, and with that comes a determination and a hope that one day, this club will gain no new members.
Presently, my dad has had an extremely successful brain surgery to remove that particular tumor, a successful round of radiation therapy, and is currently receiving chemo, so we’re hopeful.