The Bigger Picture: Perceptions of Cancer

Taking the good with the bad and living life despite cancer

I have shared much of my experience about cancer in various ways over the years. Whether that’s been in chat rooms, emails to keep people informed or through my writings here with CURE. Yet, I feel that many didn’t see and don’t understand what life’s been like since my sister’s cancer diagnosis.

The time spent waiting for good news. Hoping that scans will be clear of cancer and that blood tests will be stable. That Saturdays will not mean a night spent in an ER and that going in won’t mean another endless hospital stay. The times when treatments were not being discussed to save her life, but to buy a young woman just a little bit more time.

As I’ve delved further into what life was like, I realize many still don’t know how to express anything but sympathy for all that has happened. I can remember a time before cancer, but for many in my life now, that is not the case. They are in our lives because of cancer so they did not know us beforehand. It may seem unfortunate, but I’m grateful to have them in my life no matter the reason. That being said, it is hard sometimes because I don’t want cancer to always define us.

I don’t want others to assume that my family is broken because such a tragic event has befallen us. Because yes, this did fracture a family that was once whole, but it did not break us. We all handled cancer differently, just as we have handled everything else in life. Even when my sister spent countless time in the hospital, life continued to go on. I feel as though people assume that it didn’t. The house was still cleaned, shopping was done and bills were still paid. As awful as my sister having cancer was, there were six other people in my family that didn’t have cancer.

I know that most don’t know what to say, let alone what to do in these situations. And I can hardly blame them because had this not happened to my family, I wouldn’t know the answers either. I rarely care what others think of me, but through her diagnosis, it has greatly bothered me as to what people thought of not only my sister, but also my family.

For those who have been along for the ride, I am forever grateful, for they are the ones who helped to save my sister, who walked beside us so that we did not have to fight alone. But those who turned away because it didn’t look pretty, or those who chose not to get to close fearing a sad outcome, I think that you have missed out on something quite wonderful.

In so many ways, you have no choice but to adhere to the lessons of cancer. Because whether you are ready to learn or not, the lessons are going to be taught. Cancer brings hardships and demands resilience. It ruins the best laid plans and erases anything written on a calendar. Rescheduling is hard, but cancer demands endless patience. It is a balancing act, trying to maintain life despite its presence in your life. Cancer insures that nothing is easy, but in the end, it seems far more worth it than it otherwise may have been.

The memories that were made during cancer have a unique place in my heart. Banana splits will forever by synonymous with both good and bad news. How many long days ended with nights watching Jimmy Fallon to make sure that I smiled just once that day. Cancer enforced the principle that holidays are about family. Because we spent several in the hospital, but at least we got to spend them together.

Yes, having cancer in our lives was obviously not ideal. It is one of the hardest things that we will ever face in our lives. And no, we probably did not meet the standard definition of a “normal” family through all of it. But to be honest, I am not sure that we met that criteria before cancer either. If you chose to not partake in our lives because of what you thought might happen you missed out. Because despite what you thought would happen, for good and bad, you missed out on all that did happen.