Lately, I’ve been angry at cancer. It seems weird to be this far out and be suddenly outraged, but that is the place that I find myself. For some reason, I’ve been thinking of how my life would be different in the present if cancer had never become the word around which our life was built.
I heard the voices in my head the instant I typed that sentence; those Christians who instantly say God should be; the optimists who say thinking about words other than cancer would be step one on my road to happiness. The sad fact of the matter is this: the word cancer has been at the center of my family’s life—emotionally, physically, and spiritually—since the day that Greg was diagnosed. Until you have been in this place, sat in this place, for year after year after year, you cannot in fact say what word should be where in a cancer patient or caregiver’s life.
Today, when I got to work, my eyes were screaming, betraying my exhaustion. My new co-teacher, a friend now for only six months, looked at me and said, “You know, you always are going through something big. You don’t have any of those problems that can be fixed by running to Lowe’s and getting a part for the water heater and “Poof!” it’s done.”
And that, I think, is it in a nutshell. There is nothing easy about this life after cancer, although we are so grateful for it.
We became lost briefly in the backroads of Macon on Saturday. It was Greg’s birthday, and we’d had a great day in Atlanta, a day spent touring Rhodes Hall and the Georgian Terrace, then enjoying a lazy lunch at Mary Mac’s. Now, we were looking for a pharmacy that sold dry mouth patches Greg’s oncologist had recommended. We’d been to pharmacy after pharmacy with no luck, and I was becoming frustrated. I looked at him and said, “I know one thing: I’d rather be doing this than bringing flowers to your grave.”
Abby, horrified, immediately said, “Mom! That’s not something you SAY!”
Greg turned to her and said, “I know exactly what she means.” He patted my hand.
That’s what cancer has been for us—a journey where we say things we shouldn’t say and feel things we shouldn’t feel, all while being aware of how close to the grave he came. No, Greg’s never marched in the Survivor Lap at Relay for Life. He’s never worn a ribbon. We don’t celebrate his transplant as a second birthday. We haven’t embraced cancer survivorhood as a lifestyle, but we can’t escape its mindset.
I struggle more with this than Greg does, especially on a day like today, where every other post is about standing up to cancer. The posts are alternately defiant and optimistic; there are posts from people who have lost their children, their husbands, their first loves. We know so many people who have paid far greater a price than we.
For me at least, cancer is more than a slogan, ribbon, or picture. It’s our friends who are dead and their semi-orphaned children; it’s doctor bills waterfalling around us; it’s prayers in the dark. But most of all, it’s that man beside me, who is missing part of his bottom jaw, who has his donor’s blood running through his body, whose DNA now matches hers. February 4th is, to me, a day like any other: a day when I am awed by his strength, impressed by our daughters’ fortitude, and therefore impelled to continue.
I don’t know if we are still standing up to cancer, but we are slogging on.