Lessons Cancer Taught Me


I'm using the lessons that cancer taught me to move forward in life.

When my sister first began to exhibit signs of being sick, I didn't let my head go to all the darker places that my heart was leading me. I tried mightily to assume that she would be OK or that my eyes were betraying me, and she wasn't really that sick. As she got worse, curiosity won over and I began to research all that could be wrong. One word kept coming up: cancer.

I didn't know much about this vague illness. I heard the word many times throughout my life, but it had only affected the mother of a friend from grade school. I didn't know specifics of even that with cancer, there were so many different kinds and they all attacked the body in different ways.

At first, I tried to convince myself that I was being irrational. “Of course, if she did have cancer, she'd have been much sicker than the person that I was living with,” I thought. As time wore on, though, I realized just how sick she was. She lost so much weight that her skin hung off her body. She was pale, and other people began to notice that something was wrong. Despite how hard I didn't want it to be true, she was clearly sick. The problem? She was 27 and she wasn't convinced that it was bad enough to go to the doctor.

Days turned into weeks and finally at the persistence of my parents, she relented. On July 11 she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. When we heard the word cancer, the ominous feeling that I had felt for months broke open and consumed me. My world shattered, and my family and I had to now face something that none of us had been prepared for.

My family didn't cope well with the diagnosis. There was a lot of resentment towards my sister for what was perceived negligence on her part because of her refusal to be seen. I fought an internal battle as to how to cope. While I had long thought that she was sick, it was different now. This wasn't just a feeling I had, but a reality that we now faced.

Although I had done some research on cancer, I had only focused on leukemia. What I read terrified me, and I was completely overwhelmed. After her diagnosis, I was torn between wanting to know more, but also not wanting to know. The picture that the facts painted was a less-than-ideal outcome. I remember a lot of things about my sister's journey with cancer, but there is a moment from early on in her cancer journey that sticks out at me.

It was her first visit to Rocky Mountain Cancer Center to do the initial meeting with her oncologist, Dr. DiBella. I remember sitting in the waiting room with her and looking around at all of the other cancer patients. Most of the patients were much older than she was, but I remember looking at them and being so bothered that my sister was now one of them. That at 27, my sister had cancer.

In that moment, I do not think that I really understood what having cancer meant. Or more aptly, what having cancer in our lives would look like. I didn't think about the fact that she, too, would lose her hair and be like the woman who had her head wrapped up in scarf. Or that she would need an emesis bag like the man two rows over because nausea would make holding anything down nearly impossible.

Instead, I sat there impatiently wanting to get done for the day. Little did I know that in nearly three years time, I would spend countless hours in that same clinic for numerous appointments, lab draws, radiation and chemo infusions so that my sister didn't have to endure cancer alone.

When my sister was diagnosed, my whole family also got the disease of cancer. It is a crippling impediment on all that was once normal. It changes family dynamics. You are forced to learn new ways of living to accommodate the change. While my family never really reached that point of understanding, I tried really hard too.

During her entire cancer journey, I fought not let a disease dictate the way that we lived our lives. Now that the storm of cancer is over, I view my career in oncology nursing as the rainbow. Cancer taught me so many lessons and changed me in so many ways. It showed me that anything can happen. And through her remission, cancer showed me that sometimes the realm of possibility is simply a perception that we just don't fully understand.

Related Videos
Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown