What Cancer taught me

It’s hard for me to know where to start with my experience with cancer. I thought I could go on for pages but when I attempted to start I could barely figure out the first sentence. But it’s not really the thought of cancer itself that hurts me so much it’s the part of my life cancer took from me. So I want to write this for my dad. For his story which is not a story about a body that could not withstand a sickness, but the story of a man and those like him who did not let the sickness steal their spirit. My story is the same as many others, in one moment or another a diagnosis was given then altered the reality I live in. A normal day turned into months of heartache and soon the little things that I once took for granted became the everyday things I clung to, and now are the things that I wish I could have back. My father was diagnosed with a terminal cancer at the end of January in 2015. We begun our new year fighting the fight of all of our lives. At the age of 48 my father had stage 4 brain cancer which originated as melanoma but had spread to his brain. He had worked hard labor all his life fishing, logging, and then finally settling here in our small town where I was raised. Growing up I knew his career as a successful alfalfa farmer. But after 18 years of toiling in the sun the radiation had given him cancer. The doctors gave us up to a year, but my father’s fight lasted for 3 months. For my mother and brother and I, the fight still continues in our lives trying to figure out what and who we are without him.

Nobody wants to envision their life without the people in it that give it meaning. My parents and I had always been close, and for that I was so grateful. I had parents who lifted me up and always did their best to provide and make ends meet, but most of all they always loved my brother and I unconditionally. Both my parents were unable to go to college, although they wanted to so they stressed education and being involved in school. Both my parents came to my games and would cheer loudly and embarrassingly just because they were so proud to be my parents. I’d always be mortified that they were always smothering us in so much attention but it never seemed to bother my brother. My brother was always the kind of guy who walked to the beat of his own drum he never really got embarrassed or cared what people thought. He stayed home, I went out. He loved video games and knowledge bowl, and not so much the outdoorsy type like me. Although we were very different, my brother and I were always close too so you could say I was very blessed with love growing up.

When I got to highschool I had lots of friends and was always badgering my parents about going out, or for money for the movies or for just any excuse to leave the house. I don’t know why but I never wanted to be home. I was ungrateful to be there whenever my mom would make me stay. I was a normal teenager to say in the least, but If I would have known then what I know now I would have traded everyday out for just one day sitting on the couch watching my dad’s old western films with him. I wished now that I had realized how much I would miss those things, after they were gone. The little moments that I once never noticed became the things I missed most. My brother was more like my mother, and I was my dad’s mini me, his pumpkin and his angel. I was his shadow, and we were close because we were a lot alike. As I got older I was his hunting partner and his helper always going to the farm with him, or helping him BBQ. Wherever he was I knew I had a place by his side. So when he was diagnosed it was no surprise to him when I wanted to drop out of high school into a one day a week schooling program so I could spend more time with him. He dismissed it immediately. He said even if the quality in his life was fading he would not stand to watch me lose quality in mine.

It seems in life we are constantly surrounded by time. Always living by the clock. But if cancer taught me one thing it’s that time is just an equation to give structure, it does not give meaning itself. We live in moments, and memories of moments. When we were given only a few months with my father we stopped living by time and started living by the moments with him. We didn’t just eat breakfast or dinner but we relished in it, making all of my dad’s favorite meals. In the last few months I had with him he taught me the most valuable lessons that would follow me all through life. Its sad to me that it took such a hard situation to get such a simple message through. Life is precious and it is short. No matter how hard you beg another moment is never promised, so you better fill the moments your allotted to the brim with worthy memories because they become all you have. I never truly valued how incredible my life was when my dad was here, the sense of normalcy we had and the happiness, the feelings of comfort he brought that I took for granted because I was young and selfish. I didn’t realize how good I had it until I had a huge hole in my heart that was once filled by the courage my father gave me.

My mother used her special healing powers to hold the family together, dad used his strength to keep all of our spirits high. Even with the bleakest of outcomes he would tell me and my brother the most positive things, that he was going to make it and walk again. He’d tell me that even if he didn’t walk again that he wasn’t going to fall into the “pit of self pity”. He was being so strong, and for that I was so proud to be his daughter. His selflessness was astonishing. His ability to cover his own worries, and push away his own pain just to try and make the people he loved feel less of it. I was so proud to be his daughter, and I realized now that his love was my strength as mine was his. When the hard days came, and mentally everyone was shot and broken mom would bury her chest in his shoulder and cry but I couldn’t bring myself to do the same. I could see how it hurt him. I wanted to be his strength now so I’d just take his hand and hold my tears until I could shed them alone. I felt like crying was saying goodbye, and that saying goodbye was like giving up; and I couldn’t do that to him. He had been my strength for 16 years and It was my turn to hold his head high for the both of us.

Sometimes I catch myself longing for that sad moment of closure, to have cried at his bedside and thanked him for his unconditional love for all of those years. But I think the greatest goodbye I could have given him was none. By not giving up on him I showed him that unconditional love and faith that I had in believing he was not going to leave us. Which in turn I pray that gave him comfort instead of sadness. My experience with cancer changed the very core of who I was. I grew up in a matter of months. The immature things that completely ruled my teenage life dissipated as I was holding my fathers frail hand. My wants changed from money and basketball games to just wanting my father to see me graduate, or to walk me down the aisle of my wedding day. Cancer taught me to wake up in the morning and to give thanks for another opportunity to show the people I love that I value them. I get up every morning now and make my mom coffee it used to be my dad daily routine, but now it’s mine. Not because I have to but because I feel blessed to wake up to my mother’s beautiful soul everyday. I write letters and thank you cards to my family far away without being told to or forced because those are the people who give my life so much meaning and now I’m grateful for any moment I have to give them the thanks they deserve. Without my father I have had to learn who I was all over again. But luckily the thing that never changed was the passion for life my father bestowed in me. He lives through me now, and I plan to live my life to its greatest capacity every day. Cancer taught me that a body is temporary, but a spirit can continue to fight even when the body cannot. My father’s spirit fights on still, fighting for me and my family to never forget the value of life and the importance of the love we have for each other.

Ally Mershon