Disclaimer- I have the utmost respect for our military and our veterans, and in no way mean to disrespect them or downplay their contributions to our freedom.
I know the war analogy is used so much for cancer. And I know it can be so unkind and horrid to say someone “lost their battle,” implying they weren’t stronger enough or good enough to win. I’ve heard many arguments not to keep talking about “the fight,” but I think it really works.
In my job, I meet tons of new people daily. I meet a surprising number of military veterans and you know what- I know that because they tell me. Almost every military member will bring up at some point in our conversation “When I was in the service….”.
I always follow-up with “which service?” “What did you do?” And “thank you for serving.”
But it got me thinking…Soldiers aren’t ashamed of their time. Some choose the path, but many of the older individuals did not. The ones I’m talking to made it out the other side. I know they have friends that did not.
That’s just like us – cancer patients.
We did what we had to. We fought, we endured, we joined this exclusive brotherhood. A lot of us can swear worthy of any Navy member. Many have tattoos that could rival the Marines.
And all of us have brothers in arms who are no longer with us.
We don’t criticize military guys for losing their friends. We just accept that they came back, and others did not. We honor and remember the fallen. We should do the same with our cancer peeps.
We’re all in the same battle. Some of us are in worse places than others, but we’re fighting for a common goal. To live. To grow old together. To see the joys of families and careers. Not all of us make it through.
Ronald Regan spoke about grieving two lives- the one that was lost, and the one that they should have lived. I have grieved that for friends, and for myself. My social media was flooded last night by another one taken too soon, and her friends posted tributes to her. I know they will on her anniversaries in years to come.
But what about those who never met her? People who meet her family today won’t know about the impact she had on them, or the role she played in their lives.
Relay for Life was this weekend in my hometown. I was a team captain every year I was in school, minus the semester I was in transplant. It’s a great event.
My signature item was walking tacos, and I’ve raised thousands of dollars for Relay for Life. My family will always come out, and help me set up tables, and serve food. My siblings make sure to bring cash to spend at the other team’s tables. I always link arms with my brothers as we walk the opening survivors lap, and again as we silently walk in the luminary and remembrance lap. My mom always buys a luminary candle in remembrance of our dear friend Sam.
This year, I didn’t have a team and am no longer in college, but I went to support the other teams and celebrate with my friends. My mom bought me a luminary candle. It kind of sucker punched me.
My friend Maddie ran to my luminary and dropped her glow stick inside, to make it shine brighter. The track was lined with luminary, remembering those who’ve gone ahead, and honoring those who are still here. It was a very special and kind gesture, but I didn’t feel like I deserved it.
But then I realized that it wasn’t about if I deserved it. Unlike the military, cancer isn’t a choice. We do our best. We do what we must and not all of us will make it to the other side.
We grieve them: our lives are less full because of their passing. We honor and remember them as we live our lives. Every time I feel like I can’t keep going, I remember that I’m living my life, but I’m also living the lives of so many others who aren’t here. It’s my responsibility to honor their memories by living my life to the fullest.
I try to think of how they lived their lives, and how they would keep living if they were still here. So, I say we keep using the fight terms. We don’t discredit those who “lost” the fight, we honor their battle and support their families. We suffer PTSD same as returning veterans, because we’ve also seen unspeakable horrors, and been pushed to the brink of humanity.
Let’s support each other in this brotherhood of cancer warriors.
I wasn’t sure how to land this plane, but this morning I had a thought- just like we celebrate Memorial Day, why don’t we have a cancer Memorial Day? We have veteran’s day and a corresponding cancer survivor’s day, but we don’t have a day to honor those who have gone on.
We could put flowers on their graves, honor their families, and remember their memory. Whether or not this becomes an official thing, it’s something we can each do personally. On their birthdays, and special occasions, let’s remember those who’ve gone ahead, and live the lives we have been given.
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