The word we all fear, and the disease that in some way I am sure has affected us all one way or another. For most of us we probably make a conscious effort with what we put in our bodies and what kind of lifestyle we activate. But cancer doesn't discriminate, any one of us at any time could be delivered the bad news of cancer sometime in our lifetime.
I’ve had my fair share as a witness watching what this terrible disease does to a loved one. Scheduling and maintaining doctor appointments alone could drive someone crazy, not to mention the chemo, radiation, surgeries, and the fear of it spreading that often comes along with this deadly disease. Within my family alone we have had blood relatives suffer from- Breast Cancer,LungCancer, skin cancer and even tongue cancer. I’ve had friends suffer through the pain of losing parents due to cancer and I’ve had friends themselves defeat cancer.
I remember the first time I had to really acknowledge cancer and it was with my Aunt Dotty who is my mom’s sister. I was about four years old and had just walked down her aisle as a flower girl on her wedding day. She was beautiful and full of life, I didn't know or couldn't comprehend at the time, but she had melanoma skin cancer then and on her wedding day. I absolutely cannot imagine preparing for such an iconic day in your life and know you are dealing with cancer. But I could assume in her case, she was just grateful to see another day, and this particular day was her wedding day. The cancer had spread to her bones and she was in too much pain to enjoy her honeymoon and had to cut it short. I have very few memories of the whole process as she lived in Florida and we lived in NY, but I remember even at that young age hearing she had passed away 6 months after her wedding day. My mother and the rest of the family witnessed her last breath at home at the age of 47.
The next time cancer surfaced in my family was with my uncle Donny (My mom’s brother) He lived in Texas and my fondest memories of him were singing around the fire outside. He always played his guitar for all of us and loved his go to songs, “Hey Good Lookin” by Hank Williams, and my personal favorite that was always dedicated to me “ How much is that doggy in the window”- I always looked forward to my part which was recreating a “dog barking” for the chorus part. Overall, it was lifestyle that got the best of Donny and eventually was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 62.
Now being in my teens I was able to comprehend this disease much better and my aunt on my dad's side was diagnosed with Breast cancer. She was fortunate to survive it after she battled the loss of her hair and the brutal chemo and radiation sessions. I am happy to say she is still alive and over a decade in remission.
The one that hit closest to home was my father. When I was 21 I was sat down by my parents and told that my dad has “tongue cancer’ A form of cancer I have never even considered or thought of- still to this day tongue cancer deserves much more acknowledgement. My dad was never a smoker, maintained a pretty good lifestyle, worked out daily at the gym, was a sharpshooter and the first to always crack a dad joke. It boggled my mind how he of all people got tongue cancer. We later realized it was possibly an effect from the chemical ‘Agent orange’ that he was often around during the Vietnam war. I remember our house was under construction at the time, so we didn’t have a proper living room to be in and I remember sitting on the floor and watching my dad get up and down to run to the bathroom from the effects of chemo. He also couldn't eat with his mouth during this period and had to be fed through a tube that was connected to his stomach. I took the honors to set up his bags that had his liquid “food” to keep him maintained about 4-6 times a day and overnight. I think the hardest thing sometimes is to watch someone who you know as being so strong and watch them be in such a vulnerable miserable state. There is nothing we can do besides support them and be there for them, but it never feels like it's enough. The radiation took a toll on him and he still has a hard time eating and swallowing. Luckily, he did survive but the ripple effects still remind us of that awful period in time. He still to this day needs to get surgery twice a year to stretch his throat to a circumference that is average to make sure he can swallow and eat correctly without choking. The radiation caused a stroke in one eye destroying his peripheral vision, and most recently he was diagnosed with vascular dementia. I feel the cancer years ago is an effect to why he has dementia. He’s also had his fair share of skin cancer, but luckily always on the surface and removed easily by surgery. On the positive side, my dad is 77 and looks like he’s 40, and pretty much healthy otherwise. He was very lucky as he could have lost his tongue, his speech and of course his life.
These are just a few stories on how cancer has affected me and those around me. I feel the more we talk about it, the more we can shine light and take action pre, during and after. We often take life for granted and forget to thank our body, our mind and heart for functioning for us every day.