By Tina Seymour
“You had cancer. You understand what I’m going through.”
Yes. And also, no.
No, I don’t.
If you’re talking about the big picture of cancer…the finding out…the gut check when it feels like you’ve been kicked in the ribs by a mule. The momentary silence that descends…ears ringing…floor looking a Hell of a lot closer as you grope behind you for something to hold onto so you don’t face plant on it…sinking to your knees at the same time that you have the thought “when was the last time I swept this damn kitchen floor? These are clean jeans I’m wearing.”
Then yes. By all means, a resounding yes.
A thousand times, yes.
But after that initial first few minutes…I have no idea what in the heck was going on in your mind.
Were you thinking about your kids…your parents…your siblings…your work (please tell me that work didn’t cross your mind at that moment).
Ok. I admit it. Work crossed my mind.
Don’t judge me.
I was starting a new job in 5 days, had just been told I was going to have surgery…and was trying to figure out how to break the news to my brand spanking new boss that I wasn’t going to be there for orientation next Monday.
Hey, those bills still needed to be paid…cancer be damned.
My dogs were crawling all over my lap…and for one heartbreaking moment…I realized that, unlike the multitude of animals I’d had to say goodbye to over the years…they might actually be the ones to mourn me instead of the eventual sad goodbye that I’d thought would one day come.
I don’t have kids…and the thought of that…not having heirs or legacies to carry on in my stead and give all the crap I’d accumulated over the years…was sobering.
I looked around me at all that CRAP…and realized…I’d wasted half my life chasing degrees…things…stuff.
And when I finally got to the point where I should be enjoying it…I find out that my time may have run out.
I don’t know who you called first…or if you even called anyone that first hour after you heard the phrase that would forever change the way you looked at…well…everything.
Did you walk to the bathroom…look in the mirror…and think about the future?
Or did you think of the past…of missed opportunities…lost chances to spend with loved ones…risks you didn’t take because you were too afraid of the consequences if you failed?
Did you realize just how crazy you’d been to be so damned AFRAID your whole life?
Or did you see the news of your diagnosis as a culmination of those fears?
Yes, I had cancer. I had surgery. I had a long, slow recovery that has forever left me with scars.
And now, now I hear that you are taking the first steps of a journey that I am many miles along.
My heart hurts for you. There is an aching in my chest for your family, your loved ones, your babies…no matter if those babies are human or fur balls…they are your babies. Your life. Your heart.
You’ve made an indelible impression in the lives of so many people…and for you to vacate that impression…or for even the CHANCE of that happening to be a factor now…
It isn’t fair.
Yes, I had cancer. I once stood in the shoes you are now tentatively stepping into.
I was scared. I was angry. I felt alone. I felt confused.
I felt like I wanted to come out of my skin at times…
I felt restless…wanting to start…to do SOMETHING.
To scream…to run…to stop…to live.
I wanted to live.
Only this time, I wanted to live with the knowledge that my time on earth may be cut shorter than I expected. That one morning, I would wake up, make plans for a lunch with friends …the biggest concern of the day being whether or not my hair would fall flat in the 99% humidity before I reached the cool recesses of the air conditioned restaurant…only to have that day, too, cut short by a phone call that carried more weight, more seriousness in it than the innocent ringing of the phone promised.
I wanted to rewind my life and start over…only this time…I wanted to do it with an urgency…a knowledge that I didn’t have that shitload of time to get things done that I’d always assured myself I had.
I wanted to…get things…done.
Amazing that I finally cured my tendency to procrastinate only after I found out I had cancer.
That is my story, my emotions…that curious amalgam of craziness and panic and fear and anger and hysteria that hit within the first five minutes of hearing the news.
And it took six years for me to unravel that small segment of time enough to fully explain it to someone else.
Yes. I had cancer. I am a survivor. I have been living for six years with that nagging, deadly whisper in my ear…that little damn devil sitting on my shoulder…the one who tells me every morning that he may return…and this time…he may not be so generous in his decision to be tamed…to be overcome with the surgeon’s knife.
Yes. You have cancer.
In this, we are the same. But after that first five minutes of learning of our diagnosis…our paths diverged.
I went my way.
You will also go your own way.
Like two jet airplanes veering off…we have to fly this one alone…surrounded by tens of hundreds of others who think that we are on the same journey.
But the worst part of cancer is that no one person’s battle is the same.
We may have the same diagnosis…the same surgery…the same meds…but we are still going to fight different fights.
Yes, I had cancer.
And now, so do you.
But on the other side of all this fear, this emotion, and this pain…in this fight, even though it is the most personal of all personal battles…there is hope.
There is companionship in the fellowship of others who have walked their own paths.
Thousands…hundreds of thousands…have heard those words you and I have heard.
Yes, we have cancer.
We have all made the decision to not curl up in some corner of our home in a fetal position and let the cancer cells that had the NERVE to grow into a threat in our bodies win this one.
Not this day.
Not without one Hell of a fight.
Yes, we have cancer. And while I cannot fight this battle for you, I can offer you my shoulder to lean on…my back to press against yours as we face the same demons surrounding us.
Yes, my friend. As hard as it is to hear…it is just as hard for me to say.
You have cancer.
Now, what are you going to do about it?