Cancer is a thief. It robs you of the life that you knew, your family’s life that they knew. It robs you of your money, your time, your energy. Sometimes it robs you of hope…or tries to, at least. It can be long and drawn out, a series of attacks, or short and quick. Some people’s bodies arrest it, some just live with it for a long time and some, well…some are overcome by it. But all, ALL of them fight it.
I feel so relieved, so grateful when I hear of another person who beat cancer. Friends, family and even the media call those who are survivor’s strong, resilient warriors. And they are. The strength it takes to go against a giant like cancer is undeniable and to those who gained their lives back, I am in awe of and so incredibly happy for them and their families. It truly is a feat, beating cancer. But when my husband, Phil, died from cancer, the news spread: He lost his battle. Like he did something wrong, but the others who survived did something right. But that’s just misinformed and misjudged, because he still won his battle and I’ll tell you why.
There’s something so incredibly wrong about watching someone die of cancer. It touches every corner of your life. And as his wife, I had cancer too. His kids did too. We were all fighting against this beast. I was in my mid 20s and all I knew how to do was fight for my husband. I spent all my time researching how to heal him, not about what a Stage IV cancer diagnosis means. I juiced every vegetable under the sun, he took handfuls of supplements, he ate grass-fed beef, then we tried vegetarianism, then detoxes, then chemo. Every day we got up ready to fight. There was no giving up for Phil. He sat through grueling hours of chemo being pumped through his body and then got up the next day to go to work, climbing 2-story ladders for his window cleaning business and then he’d come home to help his pregnant wife wrangle their twin toddlers to bed. Dinner often went untouched. Through the night, I was on watch ready to empty another trashcan because he got sick in it. Or to calm coughing fits. Or to wake up in a panic and reach over to put my hand on his chest to make sure he was still breathing. And through it all, all he could say was, “Thank you God, for another day.” “Death” was not in his vocabulary, although that’s what was happening to him, but he chose life and living for him meant every second he could take another breath.
He gave up his pride having to have his wife carry him to the shower. Having someone else change the bedpans. He gave up his independence having someone else run his business while he watched life happen from inside our little bedroom. He gave up control, but he didn’t give up. He never complained and he did what he could to still provide for his family, even making business calls in the hospice the day before he died. He was a warrior. And the weaker he got as he dwindled down to skin on a frame of bones, the stronger I saw him get. He was no longer fighting with weapons of trying to cure this, or heal this, but he was fighting back with peace. Not letting a ravenous monster steal your peace is the bravest thing anyone can do. And to his last breath, that’s what I saw—peace.
When he died, to the crowds in the arena, it looked like the battle was over. It looked like he lost. But what they didn’t see was that he only finished his part of the race. He passed the baton to me. He passed the baton to my children. He paved the way for our own fight in this life, the constant fight for peace in a chaotic world. He gave us love. He gave us each other so we wouldn’t have to do this alone. And he gave us his love for God, which brought us comfort knowing that this wasn’t the end for him. If he was being interviewed on a news program and someone asked him, “Phil, how does it feel to lose to cancer?” He’d smile back and say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”