At the End of Cancer, There Is Light

I think about how much I have changed in two years time, and how cancer has changed the trajectory of my life.

Since my sister’s diagnosis, I have met many who have been affected by cancer. In general, I find that this illness is so unique to each individual, yet there are things that I wish we had known from the beginning -- things that I wish somebody had spoken up about, and things that I am glad I did not know.

When my sister was first diagnosed, I did not even know where I should begin. It now occurs to me that the biggest challenge in battling cancer is knowing the disease. Unless personally affected, one would never have a need to know disease differential or chemotherapy regimens. At the age of 25, those facts have become my entire reality. For my sister, it became her denial.

Although the word cancer is often spoken in society, we still fear it as if it was a monster hidden in the dark. Some can’t even say the word, and some are angry and don’t understand why. Some become angry at the world and fall into a depression. Some try to convince themselves that it is a misdiagnosis. Because of the lack of knowledge, we still view cancer as a death sentence. This can create a problem because these people may not feel the need, or have the will, to fight.

We may not always have a choice in our situation, but we do have a choice in the way that we react. Personally, knowledge has always served me far better than fear has. As a patient, you can be empowered by knowing the disease. It allots for understanding of what your care team is telling you. It gives you a leg up compared to the patients who are in denial and dismissive.

With that said, those who die do not give up. It is not as if they lost because they did not try hard enough. Many who fight with all that they have and with all that modern medicine has to offer, still lose the battle. Cancer is a battle of a much larger war that we have been waging for a very long time. We need to go in with the mindset that cancer is not an immediately curable affliction. We seem on the verge of very promising therapies and treatments, yet many will die before we find success. For those of us who are not the ones fighting, it is our job to make sure that the warriors who die are not lost in vain.

Saying it now, it seems obvious that as we evolve and learn, medicine would follow. But to learn that we don't have all the answers was eye-opening. We still use original chemotherapies created in the 1960s, and that is shocking. We all benefit from those that have preceded us. They get therapies and study them so that the next person has that much more knowledge.

As we study and continue to learn about cancer, we need not forget that there is a person who has that affliction. We need to also be learning about the complications that they face, including the fears, questions and worries that they deal with daily. Often, the focus is far too great on curing a patient, and we lose sight of the after effects that such a traumatic event can have on someone.

I am not foolish enough to say that I am happy my sister got cancer. This is a disease that the human body is not meant to endure, and one that nobody should have to endure. I am, however, grateful for the opportunities and lessons that it has provided. I think about how much I have changed in two years time, and how cancer has changed the trajectory of my life.

It would be irresponsible to discredit science, treatments and all those who fight so very hard for a cure. Just as cancer patients pave the way for the next patient, doctors and nurses do the same for each other. Such as in life, science is ever changing and by learning from the past, we realize how to better each patient’s future. As we turn focus to the patient and families, the determination to finding a cure becomes stronger each day. With a face, cancer can no longer hide in the dark.