When people ask how the girls are dealing with mommy having cancer, I simply say, ‘Great,’ which is true. They are getting through this, I feel, solely because they’ve been able to see that cancer isn’t a death sentence, or ‘DOOM’ as they’re learning from the Ewok movies. The response is often, ‘well, it’s not.’ My reply every time is that it IS for some. I don’t want my experience or what I say to demean anyone’s story. We are all different, unique individuals that unfortunately (and at the same time fortunately) travel through separate journeys in life. Even though I may have the exact same disease as some, how our bodies react to treatment may not be the same. This disease comes in MANY different forms. It doesn’t care if you’re a woman or a man. It doesn’t care if you’re white, Hispanic or black. It even doesn’t care how old you are.
We have all had cancer in our lives, whether it be a family member, friend, co-worker, or self. Tell me one person that doesn’t know ANYONE who’s had cancer and I’ll give them the luckiest person in the world award. And if I’m your first, I’d love to give you a bear hug and apologize for breaking your cancer virginity. For everyone else, try listing all of the individuals in your life that have been affected by cancer. When you come from a large family, it’s inevitable that someone will have cancer. For me, because of my gene testing, the list is long, and I’m able to go back to my ‘great’ relatives. How, after all of this, I still DON’T have a cancer gene, I may never know. So I start with those that have passed away:
- Joseph Macaluso (maternal grandfather) – 8 years remission from kidney cancer, died of kidney and colon cancer at age 83
- Ada Brown (paternal grandmother) – died 49 from subdural hematoma while battling breast and lung cancer
- Elvis Brown (paternal grandfather) – died at 62 from throat cancer
- Rosemary (maternal great aunt) – died at 48 from ovarian cancer
- Blanche (paternal great aunt) – died at 54 from breast cancer
- Gertrude (paternal great aunt) – died at 58 from breast cancer
- Mom’s first cousin- died mid 50’s from throat cancer
- Edith (paternal great aunt) – 35 years remission breast cancer, died of a heart attack
- William (paternal great uncle) – died at 71 from mouth cancer
- Billie Joe (paternal first cousin) – breast cancer at 36, remission until 41, died at 46 from breast and spinal cancer
- Anna (maternal great aunt) – 17 years remission breast cancer until 78, died of a bad heart
- Mike Rokich (Husband’s grandfather) – died 1999 of prostate cancer
Friends, co-workers and loved ones outside of family that have passed:
- Michelle – college classmate, died in 2004 at the age of 29 of colon cancer
- Edgar – childhood friend and high school classmate, died 2005 at age 29 of Lymphoma
- John – high school friend, survived testicular and brain cancer, died 2007 at the age of 31 of lung cancer
- Anne – Husband’s co-worker, died Jan2012 of lung and brain cancer
- Judy – dear friend, died Jan 2012 at age of 67 of ovarian cancer
- Kelly – college accompanist, died March 2012 of Intestinal Cancer
On that somber note, you’d think that we’d feel completely powerless. Then think about survivors you know:
- Dolly (maternal great aunt) – 6 year survivor colon cancer, currently 90
- Kathleen (mom’s twin sister) – 13 year survivor breast cancer
- Barbara (business associate) – 12 year survivor brain cancer
- Steve (Husband’s uncle) – 3 year survivor prostate cancer
- Tiffany (college friend) – 16 year survivor ovarian cancer
- Brianna (college friend) – 8 year survivor Metastatic Thyroid Cancer
- Amanda (college friend) – 7 year survivor Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (diagnosed while 34 weeks pregnant)
- Grace (daughter of high school friends, 12 years old) – 6 year survivor of brain cancer
- Anna (friend of the twins, 5 years old) – 3 year survivor of brain cancer
Now, think about those currently fighting:
- I count myself – 36 years old
- Joyce (father’s sister-in-law) – breast cancer
- Jamie (4th cousin, cuz in Louisiana you know them) – thyroid cancer
- Brett (college mentor and advisor) – prostate cancer
- David (business associate) – terminal blood cancer
- Libby – 6 years old battling kidney cancer
And this is just what I remember. I know there are others that I’m leaving off – a friend’s mother, someone’s sibling, and more. To that, I send my deepest apologies. It’s a disease that affects everyone. You just never know in what capacity. They could have survived, been a caretaker, seen a loved one die, or watch a child battle through. So since I look like cancer, I’m more aware. When I catch someone’s glance, I have to force myself to smile. I never know what cancer has done to them. I know I’m getting through this, but I’ve seen dozens in the hospital struggling, wondering how many times they’ve been there before. Wondering if I’ll return.
I go home each day, passing my neighbors, a Puerto Rican family that has lived with cancer for decades. The youngest in the family is a bright fourteen year old girl with a beautiful smile. I’ve seen her grow from a lively six year old into a young lady, all the while never knowing just how she has been affected by cancer until I was diagnosed. She’s seen her grandfather and uncle die from it. She’s seen her grandmother, whom she lives with, go through two remissions. Now, she’s witnessing her aunt, who has gone through three remissions, die from it. The aunt has had to move in with the family, and sleeps in the same room with her. During the day she sees me living through it as if it’s no big deal, and at night she witnesses her aunt painfully fading away because of it.
Then I hear of the kids. Little Anna was 18 months old when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. But now looking at her, the spirited 5 year old that she is, you would never guess. Jennifer, Anna’s mom, has become a dear friend. Anna has to return to the hospital often for scans and follow-ups. Even though her treatment was at such a young age, she is starting to form memories of it all, seeing other kids living through their various diagnoses and treatments.
And dear Libby, battling at this moment. Six years old, 2 major surgeries in a week and months of treatment. A six year old should be learning how to jump rope, scale the monkey bars or even get lost in a book, NOT develop a fear of life vs. death. It’s not fair. I know all of the adages: “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” “This too shall pass.” “It could always be worse.” In the end, it still simply sucks. Sucks that this happens to anyone, let alone a child, in any capacity.
So when there’s nothing to say, when no words can express the confusion or anger, when all you want to do is just beat the crap out of something, we’re still left with cancer. We’re still left with a disease that robs us of time, happiness, memories and loved ones, even as a survivor you’re robbed of the energy spent fighting. Coming out of it, there is only perspective. You look at things differently. You make sure that at no point do you have any regrets. And not that you may feel an Ewok DOOM, but that you make sure you’ve taken advantage of every opportunity before you. Because in the end, yes, it could always be worse. But wouldn’t the saying be better received if it were “it could always be better.” and it actually was?