In the Wake of Cancer

I’m not sure why, but recently I have more than a few people in my life with a parent that is dying, or has died. It’s heartbreaking. It also makes me think of my dad and his battle with cancer and I get that feeling in my tummy, that tug on my heart and that urge to shut my emotions off. I am reminded of how I feel about cancer, and how I hate to be reminded of cancer.

I wrote this in the spring of 2012:

I don’t want to think about my dad’s cancer anymore. I’ve almost forgotten who he was before its arrival. Cancer has become a part of him now, and I hate that. I hate seeing people’s expression when, inevitably, I have to say that he has advanced colon cancer… that it spread to his liver…that it spread to his lungs (twice). When I see people’s reactions, I am reminded of the seriousness of my dad’s illness, the magnitude of his battle, and the frailty of his body. It instantly replaces any happy thoughts I have of us, and I am suddenly forced to think of something I try every day to forget, and it is difficult to bring those happy thoughts back.

God how I hate that.

After their questions, sympathy always rests thick between us, neither of us knowing what to say. My heart wants me to scream, “Don’t look at me like that! He isn’t dead!” Instead I smile, I nod, I assure them I’m ok. For a moment I am thankful, because I lied and they believed me, and hopefully the conversation can end. I don’t want them to see through me, and discover that I am not ok. I should be stronger- my dad fights a battle much worse than my own.

God how I feel so selfish.

Sadly, no matter how incredibly strong and invincible my dad seems to be, their expressions remind me of his situation. It’s not their fault. They are just doing the very thing a person should do, which is care.

But still, it hurts…

So I learn to disconnect. When I can no longer keep up my facade, and I breakdown, I am somehow filled with strength. I can detach from all of it, easily. I can talk freely about his situation. I may seem void of emotion, but this is how I survive. This is how I make it from one breath to the next. Until I have to prepare for another scan, and I find myself unravelling. Until the corrosion of cancer resurfaces, bringing such a heavy weight upon me, and I find myself unable to be remain strong and disconnected. Then, I become -quite literally- a wreck and I am left to explain why.

It’s exasperating.

Their questions always return. And unfortunately, I must confess that I also find myself more angry at them for their reminders, than I am at the cancer itself. These people have a physical element I can tack an emotion onto. They are reactive, they feel and can interact with me. But cancer… cancer is void of any awareness of human emotion. It only wants to “exist” and will stop at nothing to do just that. Emotion is what it is capable of generating, but not what it is capable of having. What good does it do me to be mad at cancer? Right? It will never respond. But a person (!)…a person will respond. Which is why I get angry at them.

How I hope that they will one day forgive me.

How do I explain to these people not to look at me with such sympathy…that cancer gave me a gift; a deeper connection to my dad, a greater understanding of love, passion, time, relationships and what is truly important? Cancer illuminated the importance of each moment of life. Cancer has hurt me like nothing else, but cancer has also created something that nothing, or nobody could take from me…a greater understanding and appreciation of love and life. The irony is sometimes too much to accept, because in a disturbing and seemingly impossible twist-I love and hate cancer all at once.

A bit heavy, yes. That’s just where my heart is right now- for the people I know who are feeling far more than I ever have. I will add to this by saying that currently my dad is cancer free. I can’t explain what that means, or how that feels, to me (or to him). But what I can say is that life is something you just cannot predict. No matter how hard you want to. Never take life for granted.



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