What Cancer Has Taught Me

It took a grandfather, a grandmother, an uncle, a best friend’s father, a mentor,a pet and a childhood friend. Cousins, my mother and other friends have beat it and others I know are fighting it—all different types but all cancer. My grandmother (the previously mentioned one) even hoped that my father had it because it was more acceptable than the disease he was really fighting, HIV (it was the 80s).

Cancer is how I learned about death. At seven years old, when cancer took my uncle and grandfather, I learned that we could get sick and die. As time went on, when people died it seemed that cancer was the culprit. But as I got older, cancer no longer represented the grim reaper. Instead, its presence brought out strength and depth of character in its victims. As they fought their version of this disease, they powered through their lives as mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and friends while the treatment ravaged their bodies but not their soul.

When I was young, cancer scared me. As an adult, it terrifies me. Not because how it would affect me, but how it would affect my family. I know how sickness and death can effect those on the sidelines and it is something I never want them to endure. Recently, a childhood friend lost her battle with breast cancer and while I thought about how she must have suffered through chemo, I found myself thinking about how she, despite her public fight with the disease, how she and her family dealt with the disease and the time leading up to her death: What she might have said to her two young sons and how they felt then, and even, now.

Cancer develops through a number of cell mutations that occur because of a perfect storm. When it hits full force it can bring out the strength and will of the victim’s character. Because of this horrendous disease, I learned to mourn the passing of loved ones; I witnessed strength and grace of people who will be forever a part of my consciousness; and I examined my own mortality because of those around me. It is part of my life experience, albeit I have always been on the sidelines, that has influenced the person that I have become.

What Cancer Has Taught Me