The Family Diagnosis of Cancer


Each phone call started the same way and ended with more bad news.

One Monday, a week after I ran the Boston Marathon, I received the call from my doctor. It was like a movie starting with, "Are you driving? Where are you right now?" That's how I received the news. I would get two more of these types of calls. Each one starting the same way ... each ending with more bad news. My family had been diagnosed with cancer.

It took me months, literally, to be emotionally ready to write about this — about those first thoughts after such a somber diagnois. When you are first diagnosed with the c-word, you do have those first thoughts about death, of being really sick and the possibility of leaving a family. At the time, this was too much for me to write about, let alone think about, let alone speak aloud — but it exists and it always will. Ask any person diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer, fighting cancer and those in remission ...

We know all the possibilities of this malicious and non-discriminating disease. We've read every tragedy out there and perhaps we've even lived through the loss of a friend or family member. We've driven around in the normalcy of our lives and had it seize us by the neck causing sudden outbursts of tears and sobs. We've hidden behind closed doors fighting back tears, not wanting our family, our children, our colleagues to know the truth.

I am less afraid than I was five months ago when I was first diagnosed. Even when I didn't know how advanced my cancer was, I only knew it existed and was not found early. My initial thought wasn't how I was going to feel, if I would have chemo, how would the surgeries be or if I would run again. My first thoughts were with my family.

I was afraid, terrified and heartbroken. My family had been diagnosed with cancer. There was nothing I could do to save them, because despite the good show I thought I could pull off, I could see it in their eyes. They were as afraid as I was.

With time, wounds from multiple surgeries heal ... with rehab and hard work, physical strength comes back ... but where do the emotional wounds go? As the patient, I can at least focus on all the things I can do now that I couldn't do post surgeries. I can even fake it until I make it emotionally — because I have come so far physically, the mental piece eventually will catch up. But where does the healing for the family come from?

My arms can only stretch to wrap around my children and my husband (literally). How do I wrap them, figuratively, so they feel secure and can heal from all that we've been through?

I am fortunate to live in a community of friends who come together in times of need. When I was bed-ridden and could barely lift my head off of the couch, love and security showed up on my family's doorstep in many, many ways: from flowers to beautiful baskets of food, entertainment and goodies, gift cards for dinners, ice cream, books — even three-course meals that could have fed a family twice the size of mine.

When I couldn't wrap my arms around my family, many people stepped in to do that in whatever way they could. What they gave me when I was down and out was a peace of mind so that when I went down that dark and twisty hallway, if the unspeakable did occur, my family would have help to recover. My family would have arms wrapped around them.

If I could turn back time, no, I would not do this over again. I don't think anyone would choose a cancer diagnosis despite all the good that can be found if you look hard enough. But I am amazed and overwhelmed with the acts of love that people gave so easily because of cancer. My family, we will continue to fight the good fight, celebrate each victory and continue on our path to healing. My only hope is that for all the families out there fighting will have some arms that will wrap around them and help them heal.

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