Enough is Enough
- 450. 1825. 5598. These numbers probably don’t mean much to you. They’re just random digits on a page with no connection to each other, or anything else for that matter. Harmless numbers on a blank piece of paper. Four of them. Just sitting there. Your eyes just scroll by them. So uninteresting. But, what if I wrote those numbers a different way? What if instead of numbers I wrote names: Uncle Rick, Nanny, Papap, me? Would that mean something to you? Would you look at those same four numbers and wonder what these numbers and these names have to do with each other? I’ll tell you, they have everything to do with each other. They have everything to do with me and my family. My family thinks about the connections between these four numbers and these four names every single day of our lives. Why, you ask? Cancer. Cancer is why.
Four members of my family have cancer. One is too many, but four? It’s overwhelming at times. The fear, worry, stress, tears. I want to tell you about them. Help you see what I see each day so you can understand what our family has gone through. It won’t be pretty. Cancer never is. But how better to understand it than to see it uncovered and ugly.
Let’s start with Uncle Rick, 212 days. This is how long it took for undetected colon cancer to spread to his liver, rupture his intestine, infect his body, and mercilessly take away a father to the best two cousins on earth, a husband to my favorite aunt, and the only uncle I’ve ever known. He was 49 years old. He loved mountain biking, running half-marathons, motorcycles, Penn State, yard work, local theatre, music, reading, pizza, and spending time with his kids and me. Uncle Rick’s funeral was almost a year ago. I still can’t believe he is gone. My mom is still calling my cousins and my aunt to talk, to try and get them through the “firsts” without their dad. But, what do you say? How can you help when a dad is gone forever? When an Uncle is gone? There is a hole now. A very big hole. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how to fill it. Can it even be filled? Should it? I don’t know. I may never know. I’m just floating…hoping to bump into an answer out there somewhere. Hoping. That’s my Uncle Rick’s cancer.
- That’s my Nanny. She’s 94 and was just diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors say she can get her tumor removed, go through chemotherapy and radiation. But, the cancer she has is relatively slow growing. So, will all of that really be best for her? The pain of surgery, the sickness of chemo…at 94? In the end, she chose to not do anything. She wants to live the rest of her life, however long that is, with a tumor growing in her. How is this fair? On one hand there is Uncle Rick wanting and taking every single treatment he could find. Pushing through the pain and sickness for one more day. On the other sits Nanny, silently shaking her head no. No treatment, no “fuss” as she calls it. Where is the fairness in that? An unbelievably aggressive cancer in a young, healthy man in the prime of life, and a slow growing completely treatable cancer in an old woman who already has lived a life longer than most other people on the planet. It’s not fair. At all. That’s my Nanny’s cancer.
1825, is Papap. He asked me to help him brush his hair, that’s how I knew something was wrong. I was eleven. Multiple Myeloma was the name of the reason my Papap was withering before my eyes. So far, his journey is the longest cancer battle to date. He will never be cured. He will take chemo for the remainder of his life. Because of this, he is susceptible to every little sickness that comes along. The stress every single day of trying to sterilize a world of potential death threats, it’s exhausting for all of us. He gets tired of it, too. Then he pushes back when we try to make him see how careful he needs to be. My grandma and him fight about it. We all fight about it. I am terrified every single day. Now COVID is here. It’s like I can’t breathe. What if he lets his guard down at the wrong time? Will I lose him, too? The watching, the waiting, the worry. It never, ever stops. Ever. That’s my Papap’s cancer.
5598, Dena, me, I’m the last one. Or, rather I should say I’m the first one! I was only six months old when I was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma. I don’t really remember much from then. I hear stories, see pictures, but I have no “real” memories. But, make no mistake, it doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it. I am. But, what affects me has to do with the aftermath of having cancer. It’s the permanent damage done to my body that will never heal, never go away, never get even slightly better. I shouldn’t complain. After all, I’m alive and so many others aren’t that have cancer. I try not to get down about it. I’ve learned to adapt. I suppose that’s what my cancer is about. Adapting. I’ve gotten really good at it. I’ve also learned that I can’t just give up on something because it’s hard. Quitting isn’t an option for me. So, even though my cancer has left me with something bad, it’s also given me many things that are good. And I’m cancer free now for almost 10 years! That’s my cancer.
What is my cancer story? My cancer unwrapped? It’s 212, 450, 1825, 5598. It’s Uncle Rick, Nanny, Papap, Me. It’s four numbers, four people, one family. It’s the joys of being cancer free. It’s the anguish of watching a casket being lowered. It’s everything else in between. It’s cancer.