My grandmother (moms side) passes away after a battle with cancer. I’m young enough to not really know what was happening, but I remember my family being upset.
My aunt was diagnosed with Lymphoma shortly after she had her son. She lost her hair, went through rounds of chemo and radiation, and was consistently sick. She won her battle, and is still cancer free today. She beat it, so there’s nothing to worry about, right?
My grandmother (Dads side) passed away from cancer. They didn’t have a relationship, but my aunt and her did. She took care of her during her run with cancer. She was devastated when she passed. My dad kept his emotions hidden. I didn’t quite understand.
My dads girlfriend, who later would become my step-mom, is diagnosed with breast cancer. She lives across the country, and my dad spends countless hours on the phone with her, worrying. She has a mastectomy, and is then cleared. I’m a senior in high school, and it’s just his girlfriend, so I really don’t know much about the situation in the grand scheme of things.
Age 20: My dad, at 47, is diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2017. At first, I brush it off. He will do some chemo and be fine, just like the others.
I’m in college in a different state. I never witness his chemo rounds, but I call with him and hear it in his voice how sick he is.
In February 2018, after many rounds of chemo, they decide they need to take out half his esophagus in order to take out the tumors. He has the surgery, and ends up with a tracheotomy due to complications. We almost lose him.
He recovers, and spends the next few months in a lot of pain and adjusting to a new way of life. The summer is good, and I let my guard back down. He’s in the clear.
September 2018, we found out the cancer has spread to his stomach and kidneys. We start traveling to a hospital 2 hours away in hopes for better care. I start to become more active. I drive home a few times to attend doctor appointments and to help out.
By October, he can barely move. They attempt countless MRI’s and biopsy’s, and can’t quite get it based on where the tumors are. In my gut, I knew.
By November, he enters hospice. For almost a month he lays in bed deteriorating. I’m home, helping my mom care for him. I play his favorite music, feed him water and blue slushies, and sit there reading books.
November 25, he passes away holding my step-mothers hand.
I finally felt the effect of cancer.
I grew up being surrounded by people who knew the effects of cancer. Because I didn’t experience them firsthand, it was always an after thought. I will admit, I was naive and ignorant. I knew plenty of people beat it, and those who did pass I wasn’t close with, or they were older.
But the reality is, cancer doesn’t affect the older population. It effects you when you’re 26. It effects you when you’re 36. It effects you when you’re 5. And more so, it effects those close to you. You suddenly need more support, more guidance, more love. Sometimes you need your spouse to take on a care-giver role. You lose the autonomy you worked all your life to gain.
In October 2018, I published a piece titled “Cancer-Sick” which is what we dubbed the cancer process in our family. In this moment is when I knew what the true beast of cancer could be.
We are complex humans, who merely focus on the immediate in our lives. If it doesn’t affect us, we tend to ignore it. I will admit, I am sometimes guilty of that.
Yet, we also go through challenges and situations that remind us there is more to this life. The person next to you on the train could be going through the challenge you just did a few months ago. Your friends dad could be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. And when you go through these situations, you are suddenly aware of that. You see, these challenges are what help us be empathetic and helpful.
I could beat myself up for not realizing the effects when I was 10, 17, or even 20. But, I do know the effects now. I have the tools in my back pocket to realize those around me can be suffering too. I am aware.
If we really want to start a movement towards a cure, it starts with simple awareness of our world around us.
This world cancer day, I hope you can stop, whether you have been affected or not, and have a moment for your grandmother you weren’t close to. For that girl in 4th grade whose dad died from cancer. For the co-worker who is driving her mom to various appointments, and spending hours after work siting during chemo treatments. I hope you can pause for a second in your hectic day, and be aware.
To those who have won the fight, to those who have unfortunately passed away, to those who are currently fighting, and to those who will fight: We see you.
// This post is dedicated to my father, who fought cancer in a gracious way when there was no way to make it gracious. From his awful jokes to tormenting doctors, his spirit never diminished during his battle. We miss you.