Cancer: The Monster Who’s Claws I Can’t Escape
Cancer is a monster. Not one with sharp pointy teeth and claws in the place of hands. It’s much worse than that. It comes in the form of kind, loving eyes turning dull with pain. An ambitious mind suddenly unmotivated. A single mother whose life no longer revolved around her children, but instead around something destroying her from the inside out.
I was about ten years old when my mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I was so used to her being sick at that point- spending days in bed, coughing up blood, attending endless doctors appointments trying to convince them that something was wrong while they refused to look deeper- that I didn’t really react. I vaguely remember her telling me. I remember just feeling numb. I didn’t cry or scream or anything. I just sat there, numb.
It wasn’t like I didn’t care, my mom was my whole world. She was the one that would rub my back through the migraines I suffered my whole childhood. She was the one who worked multiple jobs, even through the cancer, to care for me and my brother. She was everything, but on top of it she was a fighter. So when I found out, I was already desensitized to it. I was used to her being sick and just taking care of it. It wasn’t for years that I would find out how much my reaction, or lack thereof, hurt my mom.
Thinking back on it is like watching a movie with a montage of scenes that whir past you so that you only catch glimpses of the story. Scene one, random people showing up at our door with casseroles; scene two, fundraisers being thrown by the school she worked at; scene three, her getting paler and sicker; scene four, her laughing and entertaining the multitude of people that visited that first year; scene five, her crying over the clumps of hair falling out and deciding it was time to buy some wigs; scene six, her discovering the cancer had shrunk and it was likely that she was headed in a good direction. Scene seven, finding out the cancer had spread to her brain.
The first year was a blur. Maybe because I was young, or maybe because it was full of love and help from everyone in our lives. The second year was lonely. That was the year that I discovered tragedy has no value when it becomes old news. The third year was the year everything slowed then a bomb was dropped over our heads. A bomb of unbeatable cancer that took a hold on every aspect of our lives. The second round of cancer wasn’t met like the first. There were no fundraisers, no casseroles, no help. There was just us, a broken and struggling family.
By the news of the second round I was thirteen years old. I was angry and scared and in denial. Like I said before, after a certain amount of time tragedy loses its value. People stopped caring or checking in because it was the new normal. At this point I’d conditioned myself to be the strong one. I took everything that came with it because I had to. I didn’t have a choice. Brain cancer is almost like Alzheimer’s in the way that it takes parts of the brain until the patient is left with a child-like mind and a fraction of their personality. My grandma, who had begun taking care of me and my brother, was falling apart watching her daughter deteriorate before her eyes with no way of stopping it. My brother was so angry at the world and at my mom for getting sick, that he was never home and when he was he was lashing out at anyone and everyone. Everyone around me was falling apart, so I made the choice to block it out and keep pushing like nothing was wrong.
My mom passed away a couple months before I turned fourteen. That experience in and of itself holds a lifetime of explanation and hurt that I don’t know I will ever recover from. Life after cancer holds new challenges that I’m still facing and learning how to handle. One of the biggest problems for me, even since the initial diagnosis, continues on today. It’s the phrase, “you’re so strong. I don’t know how you handle it all”. When you’re told the most important person in your life has a disease they likely won’t overcome, one of the first things you’ll become to recognize as the new normal is being told how strong you are. It’s something I’ve heard a thousand times and yet still, to this day, it sparks an anger in me that reaches every point in my body until I feel like I will explode. People mean well, and they don’t know what to say. So they give you a generic phrase that has no meaning. I’m strong? No. I’m dealing with it because I have to. I’m carrying on with my life because that’s all I can do. I’m living my life in the best way that I can because that’s what she would want me to do. That doesn’t make me strong. That makes me human. Every single person faces challenges. And every single person will find ways to exist within those challenges. My mothers cancer and ultimately death taught me a lot. It shaped who I am. It inspired me to chase my dreams of becoming a doctor. It has given me compassion and resilience. But it has not made me strong. At least, no stronger than anyone else who is facing a problem and is continuing their life despite it.
Cancer is a monster. It tears apart your life from limb to limb, weather it belongs to you or someone you know. It is a nightmare that will haunt your waking life. It is something that will consume you, your every thought, your every action. It is something that defines me. Not because it made me strong or anything else that people will say to make you “feel better”. It defines me because it held onto my life for so long. It taught me to be kind and compassionate to everyone because you never know their struggles. It taught me to fight for my dreams because life and health is never promised. It taught me to be resilient. It is a monster. But it is one that I have faced and will continue to face every single day for the rest of my life. It is one that I know no matter how much it tries to claw its way into my brain and poison me into being angry and resentful and defeated, I can overcome because it taught me to be who I am today. I am now eighteen. I am graduating highschool. I am going to be a first generation college student. I am going to have a successful career and a big loving family. And I know I am capable of these things because if I can watch a monster take the one thing I thought I couldn’t live without, I can do anything.