Cancer - All in the Family
"Women agonize over cancer; we take as a personal threat the lump in every friend's breast." Martha Weinman Lear
If Katie Couric is wearing pink, it's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I've had some issues with the public persona of America's favorite Perkette lately, but in her private life the lady has serious credentials when it comes to the Big C. Her late husband. Her late sister. That's the Real Deal.
It's the same in my family. We've lost too many to cancer. But others are still fighting -- and winning. For the record, one of my sisters is 9 years out from a radical mastectomy. Another sister had a mastectomy last month and is currently in the process of reconstruction. Yet another sister has triumphed over kidney cancer. My nephew is winning his battle with VHL -- but he's just 9 years old and it'll be a long fight. All are survivors. And heroes.
I'm no hero but I've survived illnesses and battles in my life -- you have too, I'm sure. This week, though, I dodged a huge bullet. Back spasm three weeks ago led to crippling pain and--when steroid injections didn't work--led to MRI led to ... terror. A "lesion which is concerning for metastasis." In laymen's terms: a tumor on my spinal cord, thought to be cancer. Bone scans, CT scans, blood tests, fear so deep nothing could possibly measure it. Today the verdict: benign.
Trust me when I tell you there are few words in any language sweeter than that one: benign. You realize you haven't been breathing. Your shoulders have been hunched defensively, your teeth clenched, your body poised for 'fight,' your mind for 'flight.' You smile, you talk, you write, you reassure your family, you get on with it. But inside, you're divorced from reality, caught in a zone of equal parts denial and panic.
You never know how you'll cope with disaster until you face it. Ironically, I've got heroic role models in my immediate family--living and gone--who've already showed me the right way. Their strength in the face of their own devastating trials helped me prepare to face mine. And now, thank god, I won't have to test my mettle against theirs. But I learned something. Prosaic but still life-enhancing. Whatever you're given, you can handle. You must handle. You will handle. It's not about choice, it's about choosing.
And it's also about luck. Karma. Divine intervention. Whatever you call it, I caught an enormous break. And as much as I can, I will fight to help others catch that break, or learn how to handle it when they don't.
Cancer sickens. Maims. Kills. It devastates families, tears apart relationships, shatters childhoods, empties bank accounts, darkens bright futures. Even when you've won, you've lost something precious. Not only an organ or a body part, but your sense of serenity. Of complacency. Of peace. Cancer is ugly and frightening.
No pink ribbon in the world can substitute for a breast lost to cancer. No yellow wristband can bring back a life. But those and other symbols represent Hope. And Promise. And Determination.
Give til it hurts. Please. For the sake of others, who could be you, or yours. And for your own peace of mind.