What Does Webster Know?

October 20, 2009

What is cancer?
According to Webster’s dictionary, it’s “a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis”. That’s the official definition, so that must be what it is.
But is that what you think of?
Some people will tell you that it is a sickness. A sickness…oh, ok. Like a cold, right? But, if it’s just like a cold, then why can’t it be fixed with a giant box of Kleenex lotion tissues and a bowl of steaming chicken soup? Cancer is not a cold.
Some people will tell you that cancer is a type of evil. Evil…like a Disney villain! How do you stop a Disney villain? Well, let’s see. Prince Eric was strong enough to kill Ursula. Can strength stop cancer? No. Well, let’s try again. Aladdin outwitted Jafar by tricking him into wanting to become a genie, so that he would be trapped forever. Good idea.
But so far, we haven’t been able to outwit cancer. Maybe evil isn’t the right definition either.
Maybe to some people, cancer is like a wildfire-it spreads quickly and is difficult to stop. Or it’s like a bad dream-you can wake up from it, but it still haunts you during the day. Or maybe it’s just like going to the refrigerator on a hot summer day, only to discover you’re all out of your favorite ice cream. It gives you that sinking feeling inside, the feeling of disappointment, the feeling that you get when you know that your day isn’t going to go the way that you planned.
These are only metaphors. Metaphors are not definitions.
When you hear the word cancer, it means something to each and every one of us. Something different.
When I hear that word, I don’t think of a definition. I think of memories.
I think of how weak I felt when I fell in my kindergarten gym class on a typical rainy Washington day. I think of how I immediately knew when something was wrong with my body, because I couldn’t get up. How weak I felt and how confused I was. I think about how so much happened so fast, and how I didn’t understand any of it. I didn’t know why my doctor was so concerned, and why I had to keep going to the hospital.
All I knew was that I was sick. I couldn’t understand any of it.
Maybe cancer is just something that we are incapable of fully understanding.
I have all of these memories of being sick, but that was when I was little. Now I’m a perfectly healthy and normal 17 year old girl, with a perfectly healthy and normal life. I love to drive around in the sunshine with the windows down and blasting my feel-good-about-yourself music. I love to stay up all night with my friends, laughing about nothing and thinking up all of these inside jokes that we’ll forget by the next day. I love singing and dancing all around my house without a care in the world. I love to sleep and run and drink coffee and lay in the grass in the summer. I love my family. I love my life, and all of the good that’s in it.
And because of this, I sometimes forget. I forget that my parents went through horrible experiences, like trying to raise an infant while caring for a 5-year-old leukemia patient. I forget how much I missed out on in elementary, because I could rarely ever go to school. I forget that I might not have been here to write this essay. I forget that families everywhere are going through this stuff every day. Some are lucky, some are not. And I try to forget that one of my closest friends, and one of
the most inspirational people I have ever met, died from cancer last year. I forget because it hurts. It hurts to know that I survived, and she didn’t. It hurts to know that not all of us make it through. So we become numb to our feelings, because we can’t handle the truth. We forget, because it hurts.
Cancer hurts.
It breaks up families, it tears apart lives. Those who survive, like me, try to forget. Those who don’t, people try to forget about, even though they can’t. Those who have cancer are remembered constantly. Those who don’t have it, forget that it’s out there. Those who will get it don’t even know its coming.
Cancer affects everyone, everywhere, somehow.
We can’t define it.
But, more often than we’d like, it defines us.
Taylor Woyvodich