Two Fridays ago I was enjoying a later-regrettable Tex-Mex lunch with a former co-worker who I hadn’t seen in way too long. I make it a practice to not have my phone out at restaurants, but I had to on this particular day to keep an eye on work chats and emails coming in. Mid-bite, mid-catch up conversation, mid-my world returning back to normal from an almost-year-long bout of cancer treatments, I received a lengthy text from a dear friend.
Her youngest of three sons, sweet little Adam who sported a wristband and T-shirt supporting me during my treatments, has cancer. I felt hollow and shaky inside. My friend took her son in to the doctor on a Thursday morning for inexplicable bruises on his legs, and by Thursday night discussing “cancer” and “chemo” and “treatment” and “platelets” and “white blood cell counts” replaced normal back-to-school talk for one brave 5th grader and his family.
People say so many crazy things when they hear of someone’s cancer diagnosis. Like ancient peoples creating myths to explain lightning and the seasons, we seek to make up explanations for why someone gets cancer. “Everything happens for a reason.” “It’s all part of a larger plan.” “You’re only given what you can handle.” I’ve racked my brain, and I just can’t think of one reason why a kid should get cancer. Please don’t say those things to cancer patients or their caregivers; they leave us no choice but to politely agree and to privately surmise how the hell we got picked for this mysterious greater plan. It is equally if not more awkward when folks who, while they mean well, tell you about their friend (cousin, co-worker, dog, etc.) who had your same type of cancer and the horrible death they died of it. No matter how strong we might seem, cancer patients are often not emotionally or physically equipped to console you at that point in time, and we are hoping against hope we don’t meet that same fate. Visit here for a good guide for what to say to cancer patients/caregivers.
When I was first diagnosed, of course one of my first thoughts was “Why? Why me?” That thought was fleeting, however, as I answered myself with “Why not me?” The “why” doesn’t matter. I could go on for longer than I care to type about toxins and carcinogens and the lack of government regulation on food growing and production and the dependency of our culture on processed foods; and, I could go on about the lack of funding for various types of cancer (my “brand” of cancer and childhood cancer are two of the most underfunded varieties based on death rates and incidence). But, once you are diagnosed, or worse, your child is diagnosed with cancer, there is absolutely no explaining it away. There is only dealing with it and tackling it head-on.
So, as much as I wanted to break down and cry for my friend and her family, I did not (although I wore sunglasses for the rest of the day just in case). Crying wouldn’t help Adam.
Why spend a moment crying when Adam is still here with us, and when I know he will be with us for years to come? The way I figure it, Adam is already a survivor. His prognosis is positive, and I am positive he will use his experience to help others someday.
If you know me, you know I am not one to sit around and feel sorry for myself, and while I am most definitely sorry my friends have a tough journey ahead of them, my tears won’t make the bumpy road any smoother.
Many things in this world will move us to tears. I challenge us all to be moved to action. I am not good at being at rest (one reason why radiation and chemo were so tough for me). “I’ll sleep when I die” is one of my mantras. Don’t cry for others. Do something real and tangible that will make a real difference for them or their loved ones. Make a meal. Send a card of hope and well wishes. Advocate for awareness, better screening, better therapies, better care. Donate to a charity that uses its monies wisely. Give of yourself, your time, your talents, your resources. And by all means, pray for strength not only for the family, but also for yourself to do something positive and uplifting with your healthy body each and every day, while you are lucky enough to have one.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. What will you do to make a difference?