Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cancer of the something

Many angry four-letter words come to mind when cancer is mentioned. I believe the people who say if you live long enough, you'll probably get cancer of the something. I'm thinking I might wind up with skin cancer on the tip of my left ear. Even though I'm a fan of and consistent user of sunscreen, I often forget my ears, and that is my driving ear, so it sees the most UV rays...

One of my favorite memories of my time at KLKN was a PSA about colon cancer. This very official, dignified looking man in a suit would come on the TV and announce that there was a new test that had been discovered to determine if you were at risk for colon cancer. You just put both of your hands on the small of your back, then slide them down. If you have a butt, you are at risk. See? Everyone is at risk for cancer of the something.

Cancer wasn't even a part of my life 10 years ago. It existed out there somewhere. I knew some people who had it and it was in my family tree but in the vague and forgettable way of being far enough removed from daily life that I didn't think about it much. I still try not to think about it all that often, because who by worrying ever added a day to their life, right? Still, Cancer seems determined to make the headlines of my daily life.

Years ago it made front page news for the first time with my grandma. My grandma, who makes perfect biscuits and always has Cocoa Puffs for me at the house, was fairly invulnerable in my tender young brain. I was in college and still had all four of the grandparents that I was born with so I was unable to cope with the prospect of losing one. Thankfully, I didn't. The doctors caught it early and cut it out. After chemo, I saw my sweet little grandma without her hair. I think I lost my mind a little bit when she shows up for Christmas with this cute, pixie-ish haircut. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't the haircut she'd had all my life. I vaguely remember when her hair was chocolate brown before it became silvery, but it's always been the same cut and style. Always. It didn't even really click in my brain that the hair I was seeing wasn't her own. Later, she took her wig off to get comfortable. Those of us who were visiting from out of town hadn't seen this before, and there was a collective holding of breath as we realized just what Cancer meant and was doing. Thankfully, my brother married a wonderful woman who'd been through it before and handled that moment with a grace that put the rest of us at ease. That was 7 years ago, and Grandma has been cancer free ever since.

If Grandma getting cancer was front page news, then my dad's diagnosis was one of those stop-the-press ultra-bold headlines that takes up nearly everything above the fold.
I still had four relatively healthy grandparents so I just couldn't wrap my brain around my Dr. Colonel daddy being sick. It was a really scary time that taught me volumes about what true love is. I watched my parents change and adapt their relationship to accommodate a new routine, but not give any ground to Cancer. That new routine involved wonderful things like using the "fancy" dishes and Mama's beautiful bronzewear for any meal we felt like it. We drank the special occasion wine on the couch with cheese and peanuts, because being together was a special occasion. We laughed more and hugged more. We cried more too, but we never let that be the last word. We talked more openly and told the stories we'd always been meaning to tell. It was a beautiful, awful time and I never want to do it again. It's been more than a year since Dad stopped his chemo treatments. Looking at him now, you'd never know that just a few years ago we were updating wills and discussing final wishes. "Stable disease" is a triumph.

I wish that were the last time Cancer made an appearance. I wish it would relegate itself to being an extra with one line. A cameo appearance. I don't want it to be a reoccurring character, and I certainly don't want it to stick around long enough that it gets it's picture and name in the opening credits. Oops, I switched metaphors. I mean, I don't want it to have its own byline. There, I think that's back on track.

Two years ago, Cancer decided to jump from the Family section to Friends. Friends with cancer? That can't be right. Friends aren't allowed to get cancer. Old people get cancer. Family members get cancer. Cancer isn't for young, healthy, vital, laughing friends of mine. I tried to tell Cancer that it was totally out of line, and should leave my friends alone, but it didn't listen. So my friend took herself to get tumors and lymph nodes taken out. She got irradiated, which left little tattooed dots that she's slowly turning into triumphant artwork that shows that she's a survivor. See Cancer, I told you that you picked the wrong girls to mess with.

Just this past week, Cancer decided to visit the other side of my family and a good friend's mother lost her fight with the beast. Many angry four-letter words come to mind when cancer is mentioned. Cancer sucks and cancer is mean but I can't seem to keep it out of my life. I dread that conversation where someone says they found a lump, or a routine check revealed a spot. Lumps and spots are dumb. I don't like them, but I can't wish them away.

So get your parts checked regularly. All of them. If you've got habits that increase your risk, cut it out. Use your fancy dishes and make special occasions a regular occurrence. Live your life abundantly.

That is all.

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