Sometimes it seems cancer diagnoses come in waves.
I traveled to and from Washington, DC, in the span of 26 hours last week. During that time, three families I know were indelibly changed by cancer. My friend and cancer support group buddy Marie passed away after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer. A friend learned her dear mother has cancer, and another told me her husband has the disease.
As long as I’ve worked in the cancer space, as an employee of ACS CAN and as a survivor, hearing that someone is facing cancer or has died from it always hurts. For the newly diagnosed, I know the road ahead, and the fear, and the hope. When someone I love dies from cancer, a hole is ripped in the universe forever.
Cancer is relentless. Saying “cancer sucks” isn’t enough anymore. For me, it hasn’t been enough for a while. I know in my heart of hearts that the reason I am still here, the reason cancer didn’t take me, is so I can do the work I’m doing.
I have to tell my story. I knew that from the moment I was diagnosed. The PR guy in me wanted to let people in on every step of the process to demystify the disease and its treatment. Cancer, I believed then and now, was too powerful. Its name once was whispered instead of spoken aloud, making it the “disease that must not be named.”
Colorectal cancer especially makes some people uncomfortable because it occurs in, well, the colon and rectum. Some body parts dare not be mentioned. But guess what? Like opinions every one has one (or used to, in my case). When I tell my cancer story, I intentionally go for the laugh, whether talking about how radiation treatment affects the “gluteal crease” or how epic colostomy failures happen.
I don’t want people to laugh at a disease that is horrible and life-threatening; I want them to laugh with a survivor in its face. To take away its power. To make cancer minuscule when compared to the wonders of the love, light and hope of a life well lived despite, or in spite of, the disease and its aftermath.
I have to be the voice for the people who cannot speak because they are still fighting their illness, or they are afraid, or they want to put their illness behind them.
I believe I have been called by God to tell what I know, to urge people to get tested, to advocate for research funding and quality of life legislation, to show the world that cancer can be a beginning and not an end, and so much more.
In the words of Cormac McCarthy, I am carrying the fire.
Long may it burn.
(Artwork from www.blue-point-trading.com)