For a long time, I thought you only came into other people’s homes. You certainly would never enter mine and wreak havoc. Until you did. When I was fifteen you filled my home and apparently my dad’s bloodstream as well. Leukemia. When we told people the news they would cry, and I never understood why. What’s wrong? This won’t take him down. Do you know my dad? He is as tough as nails!
I put on a brave face and believed to my core you would not take him from me. But deep down I was scared. I acted out in every way possible because I didn’t know what to do with this fear that was consuming me. While my dad was getting chemo treatments, I was getting drunk on the weekends. You scared the hell out of me. And I had no idea how to process it.
But then my dad would show up to coach my ice hockey practices after his chemo treatments, and he still had the blue hospital tape on his arm and I’d think—see I told you, you can’t take him down. It filled me with so much hope. I would watch him skate around in awe. He was Superman. You couldn’t be all that bad, cancer. What was I so scared about?
But then the rollercoaster continued and we watched him go through a stem cell transplant. And that fear turned into a monster in my mind. My once big strong father turned into this extremely frail and emotionally depleted man. A man I didn’t recognize. A man who cried in front of me for the first time in my life. Would this be the end of him?
What his body had to go through to rid himself of you was absolutely terrifying to watch. He survived the treatment, but the man who came home to us was a much different version from the one who went in. I remember my mom and I having to physically hold him up to walk him into our home. At seventeen years old the weight of that (quite literally) was overwhelming.
He won the battle and you were gone. There were some physical changes and pills every day but, my goodness, did he go on living. He worked hard, we traveled as a family, we spent quality time together, we celebrated life. He lived on, but do you know what still lingered in my mind because of you?
How much longer? When will the other shoe drop? Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty.
We got seven more years. Seven more wonderful years together. But it wasn’t nearly long enough.
It gives me great pleasure knowing you didn’t take my dad in the end. Not directly. You can’t claim that victory. He didn’t have a single cancer cell in his body when he passed. He beat you. The treatment ended up failing him. A treatment he needed because of you. The ripple effect that would forever change my world.
Sometimes the stem cell transplant gets rejected right away, and in my dad’s case, it gets rejected seven years later. Graft versus host disease. Watching him suffer and slowly deteriorate in one short summer completely blew my life apart, and my mother’s too. I can’t even begin to describe what his loss did to us both.
Without you, my dad would still be alive. He would have seen me get married, he would have met his grandchildren. I would have been able to see my son run into his arms. I would still be able to see his big beautiful smile and get wrapped up in one of his hugs. I’d still have my best friend here on earth. I would have gotten to see my parents’ love story continue on. The list goes on and the grief is deep.
As a woman in my thirties now, I’m just beginning to unpack all the trauma and anxiety you brought into my life all those years ago. It took me a very long time to repair all that damage. Your damage.
So cancer, what I want to say to you in finality is this—the only way for me to move through this life is with peace, so I have to forgive you. I spent years filled with hate and anger but I refuse to live that way anymore. You took enough from my family already, so I won’t let you take anymore. But what I will take are the lessons.
I always try to find the silver lining, and after years of trying to heal from all of this, I want to thank you. You taught me strength and resilience at a young age. You brought my family closer together and you gave me such an appreciation for my parents. You made me see how fragile life can be. You gave me a look behind a curtain not everyone gets to see. You gave me a sense of empathy and compassion I may not have otherwise found. And you guided me toward this fire inside me telling me I need to do something with my loss. To share my story and hopefully help others with their grief.
Though these were hard-fought lessons, I still find a way to be grateful for them. So, there you go cancer. I forgive you and I thank you for all the lessons. I think my angry and scared younger self would be proud of how I’ve grown from all of this. But with all due respect, I really hope modern medicine knocks you out in the future.