Sometimes Cancer Patients Must Console Others

When I returned home from my first visit to my surgeon after my diagnosis of breast cancer, I could see the look of worry on my mother's face.

When I returned home from my first visit to my surgeon after my breast cancer diagnosis, I could see the look of worry on my mother's face as soon as I walked in the door. Before I could speak or get across the living room, she asked me, "Did he tell you how long you have?"

My mother had been living with me for 12 years at the time, and just six months before my cancer diagnosis, my sister had passed away from a different cancer. So, my mom had been overwhelmed when I broke my bad news to her. I was the one with cancer, but I would have to continue to be her caregiver, and her rock — I needed to console her immediately. I sat down next to her and began our very important conversation. I began by saying that no one knows how long my life will last, nor hers, nor anyone's. I went on to tell her that I was still in the same boat as always. No one, no matter how healthy they are, can know if they will be here a year from now, and sadly, thousands of people will die today, I told my mom, many of them younger than I. They will pass; I have cancer, yet I will live.

“Do you remember that accident on I-4 recently?” I asked. I reminded my mom about a 70-car pileup one morning in the fog near Orlando. It had taken place just three months prior, and there were several fatalities. “Those poor people,” I said, “likely took their morning showers, had their coffee, got into their cars and went off to start their day like they did any other day, but suddenly and totally unexpectedly they were gone.”

I told my mom not to worry anymore about losing me because my chances of living were actually no less than anyone else's, day by day. I was not in denial; I just was not going to focus on, or let others worry about, the end of my life. I accepted the gravity of my cancer diagnosis, but all it really meant was that I "might" die from it someday - well we all know that we will die of something someday. Although a cancer diagnosis makes us think about our mortality more, I knew that my someday wasn't necessarily going to come any sooner than anyone else's someday. My mom was comforted by the thought that we really are all in the same boat - we all live with uncertainty about the future every day — cancer or no cancer.

Nine years later, you bet I still believe what I said that day, and I know that this belief has helped me survive for almost a decade now. I dealt with three surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments while never expecting the worst. I had my private moments of fear and doubt, but just moments and not very often. I lost my mom the following year, but I had continued to be her rock. Sometimes roles are reversed. Sometimes we, the cancer patients, have to console others, and it seems that sometimes cancer can make us very wise.