Coming up on February 4 is World Cancer Day. It follows on the heels of the sixth anniversary of my mother’s passing from metastatic breast cancer. I’d like to say that is the only way cancer has affected my life but it’s not. I’m the only member of my mother’s family that has not personally had cancer of some form or another. I have had my personal experience with family and friends with not only breast cancer but skin, prostate, uterine, blood, colon, kidney, brain, leukemia, thyroid, bone, and pediatric cancers. To say that my feelings toward cancer are rather scathing would be an understatement. Personally, my sentiments begin and end with F*ck Cancer. But that doesn’t mean I have not learned from it or that there weren't ways in which I have been used to help others as a result of those experiences.
I will never really be over the fact that cancer stole my mother from me. But I can look back and see the lessons that came from it. First and second, always do your exams and trust your gut. My mother’s first round of breast cancer was discovered when she had a gut feeling she should do a self-breast exam after having not done one for months. That gut feeling saves her life but having done monthly exams would have caught it earlier.
Third, live each day like you might never see that person again. My mother’s first round with cancer, I was young still, in high school, and my father had passed away not long before. I already knew how fleeting and how short life could be. But when faced with losing my last parent and the one I was closest to, made me realize how important every day is. It made me realize that even in the mundane, you are living and loving that person and how truly precious that is.
Friendships can run deeper than blood… a lesson I saw so profoundly in the last months of my mom’s life. My family has always been close, something I’m truly grateful for but I saw the depth of true friendship in my mom’s sisters of the heart as they took flights or long drives multiple times to be with her.
The last lesson it taught me was even in our worst and darkest moments, light can be found. I’ll watch as complete strangers embraced my mom as their own, above and beyond their jobs. I saw moments of pure joy as I had never seen before in those last months. I watched people stretch rules to give my mom one last Christmas at home. I saw her bonus grandkids rally around her and love on her. And I saw so many examples of different types of love in its full depth and richness and got to experience it in ways that I never would have otherwise.
I still always feel like cancer is a plague I would not wish even on my worst enemy. And my emotions run strong with respect to its effects on my life. But I can’t deny that as a result of the same effects, that good can also be found.