Cancer. It’s news I’ve heard three times in my life.
At the age of twenty two I heard it when my father phoned from California to tell me that he had liver cancer. I felt like the ground dropped out from under me. I was terrified. I cried for weeks and eventually decided to leave college with just one quarter until graduation, and head home to be with my parents as they walked that difficult road. It was more than difficult. It was excruciating. My father’s cancer had a one percent survival rate and though he fought hard, he didn’t have a chance. I watched this vibrant, beautiful man who had never abused alcohol, smoked, or done anything unwholesome wither away. It’s the saddest I have ever been in my life.
When my second son was just a year old in 2005 I went for an annual check up. As my doctor palpitated my glands and throat area she said, “Hmmm, I feel a nodule on your thyroid. We’d better have that checked out.” Thyroid cancer, surgery, radiation and synthetic thyroid pills for the rest of my life.
In 2012 I was in the middle of a masters program when the “C” word struck again. This time, breast cancer. It felt surreal to hear that news. It was as if it was happening to someone else. Maybe it was shock. Maybe it was the speed at which I traveled from the doctor’s check up, to the radiologist, biopsy, breast surgeon, lumpectomy, mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstruction. My head was spinning. The world was turned upside down and all I could do was take the next step in front of me. I stopped looking ahead and simply dug in. I honestly can’t even recall the dates of my surgery, chemo, reconstruction and graduation. It all happened in a bit of a blur.
And here I am. Cancer free, scarred, and intensely grateful to have made it through. In those darkest, toughest times, I leaned in and let people know I needed them. I let my husband and boys run the house (and looked the other way much of the time.) I let a friend come over and clean once a week – that was hard! I gratefully received meals and notes, and I called on friends and family often when I was low.
I’ve since changed my definition of “The Big C.” It no longer stands for cancer, but COMMUNITY. Because without community I couldn’t have made it through any of those cancer journeys. If you are going through a tough time I encourage you to reach out, call on family and friends, ask for what you need and let others help. It’s your turn this time. It won’t always be, but for now you are in the role of receiver and others are the givers. Gratefully receive and feel your burden lightened just a little bit.