The Challenge of Cancer
The word cancer can strike terror in our lives at any moment. It is a word that brings untold grief but also unbelievable courage into our world. The devastation that this single word can wreck on families is almost indescribable, and yet the people who battle its effects so bravely can inspire us with their strength, resolve and determination to overcome it.
As with any large group of people, the Meadows has not been spared the pain of cancer. Many of our families, including those of both the staff and our workers, have had to fight this unrelenting disease, and many of us have experienced the unbearable pain of losing someone. Through the years and into the present our organization has had our share of individuals who have won and sadly lost their personal battle against this killer. Often the loss that was experienced has made people grow closer together. Genuine thoughtfulness and kindness has been extended to families as they went through the crisis of having a loved one who was critically ill. We have rejoiced in those who survived their ordeal, and we have mourned those who did not.
Cancer is a thief that steals from us by taking the lives of the ones we care about the most. It tears apart families and causes so much physical and psychological pain that it is difficult to comprehend the destruction that it has on society. With each life that is lost we lose the talents and abilities of that person. Their love, their wisdom and everything that made them unique is taken from us. Cancer not only takes the lives of its victims, it also devastates the lives of those left behind.
Just like most of you I have also lost loved ones to this killer.
In 1973, at the age of 39 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She should have had many decades of life ahead of her, but although she battled courageously it was not to be. She died 10 months later. It is incredibly sad that she never got to meet my daughter who was born in 1976. She had always wanted to have a little girl but after multiple miscarriages it was not possible. And now she has missed the joy of having 2 great-grandsons. Even after 40 years it is still painful to think about.
In 2007 my step-mother was diagnosed with cancer. She survived 22 months. Tragically she died on Christmas Eve. I have never met anyone who had more friends than she did. No one was a stranger to her. She had the ability to connect with every person she met. But she was never happier than when her home was filled with her children and grandchildren. She would spend hours cooking incredible meals for the family she loved so much.
In 2013 my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She lived 3 months and died a week before Christmas. She had spent the last several years of her life crocheting stocking caps for people who were homeless. Ironically after her death many of the hats she had accumulated were given to women who had lost their hair during their chemotherapy treatments. She was one of the kindest most caring people I have ever known.
All three of these women showed amazing courage in their life and death struggle. They were inspiring beyond words. The entire time they were sick their concern was not for themselves but for their families. And when they each lost their battle we experienced the most searing pain of our lives because when we lost them we lost part of ourselves. And although the passing of time does help the healing – it only helps up to a point. No matter how strong and resilient a family is they are never quite the same. The sense of loss is overwhelming, and there is an emptiness that cannot be filled. Those three women, just like your loved ones, can never be replaced.
We will always miss them.
When we look at the statistics of various forms of cancer it is too easy to think only of the numbers instead of the human beings that comprise them. The totals represent hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. It represents lives that have been disrupted and turned upside down. In some cases, such as brain tumors, it has left individuals with physical and intellectual challenges that will remain with them for as long as they live. In cases where people have lost their lives to cancer it has left behind families that have been decimated. Children are left without a mother or a father. Parents have a precious child torn from their lives. Numbers can never be allowed to numb us to the humanity of the people they represent.
Unfortunately everyone is at risk. A person’s nationality, ethnicity, disability, age or gender does not protect them from the ravages of this disease. Anyone at any time can be struck down by a diagnosis that will change the rest of their life.
The next time you are with a large group of people take a moment and look around. You cannot possibly know how many of them have been touched in some way by this disease. The frail elderly woman on the other side of the room may have lost her husband of 60 years to bone cancer only a few months ago. The young couple just ahead of you may have a critically ill child who is battling leukemia. The man to your left could have been diagnosed with prostate cancer the week before, and now he is agonizing over the various treatment options available hoping against hope that he makes the right decision. The woman whose eyes are red and puffy may have found a lump in her breast, and she is terrified as she waits for her appointment with her physician tomorrow.
When a loved one, friend, neighbor or coworker receives the news that they are about to enter the fight of their lives they are not made less by their diagnosis, if anything they are transformed in a positive way. They develop a level of toughness and fortitude that they never thought possible. Their perspective on life often changes in a meaningful way. Trivial insignificant things that used to seem so important melt away as they realize the value of living each moment to the fullest. Without trying they have a profound effect on others who find their will to live inspiring. Their intense desire to win their battle demonstrates to everyone the power of the human spirit.
Courage is a word that is thrown around too loosely in our society. It is applied to a million dollar athlete who plays with a sprained ankle. It is used to describe an overpaid actor who takes on a challenging role in a movie. It is used to describe a politician who decides to run for a higher office. But true courage is having an oncologist tell you that you have a malignant tumor that might not be survivable and immediately making the decision to fight it with all your strength, no matter what the odds. True courage is facing months of uncomfortable treatments and painful surgeries with dignity and without giving up hope. True courage is embracing your family with all your heart when you are not guaranteed a future with them. True courage is fighting this disease until your very last breath. True courage is revealed in the legacy a person leaves behind in the way they fought the ultimate test that we must all one day face.
But fortunately more and more people today are surviving cancer. My father has been diagnosed with it twice, the most recent time in 2006. Thankfully he has made a complete recovery and is in good health today. Death rates have been lowered in recent decades. Early detection has improved. Our lifestyles have changed. Treatments are more effective and surgical procedures have been refined. So there is certainly hope. I would like to believe that by the time my grandsons have families, cancer will have become a rarity or even possibly eliminated altogether.
But for that to happen the pursuit for a cure must never let up. This is a fight we cannot retreat from. Too many families are at risk and humanity will continue to be diminished if we do not commit ourselves completely to ending this nightmare once and for all. However, there is great cost attached to the never ending battle against cancer. Research for a cure requires funding. But we must be willing to do our part in this struggle. As we remember the family members and friends that we’ve lost, we must honor their memory by doing everything in our power to eradicate this disease once and for all. By finding a cure we can prevent the loved ones they left behind from sharing their fate. That is surely something they would want us to do.
There are two words that are so inspiring that when I see them it makes me pause. Those words are “cancer survivor”. Seeing those words tell a story. They symbolize the incredible will to live that a person displays as they overcome the most devastating thing that life can throw at them. They represent the depth of courage and tenacity that a man, woman or child is capable of. Each time we see those words it is not only a personal victory for that individual, it’s also a victory for all of us. With each life that is saved a family stays together. A mother or father gets to watch their child grow up. A little boy or girl gets to continue their life and grow up to have children of their own.
All of us who have been touched by cancer know how incredibly fragile life can be. It gives us a heightened awareness that our lives can change forever with a routine examination or a simple medical test. It instills in us a deep appreciation of the time we have with those we love. We learn not to take those we care about for granted. We understand the importance of sharing our time with them and making as many memories as we possibly can. We learn to love completely.
At any given time almost all of us know of someone who is fighting this battle. The physical pain, the mental anguish, the complete disruption of any kind of normal life and even the catastrophic financial consequences that can result from a diagnosis of cancer can leave families struggling to cope. Take a moment to consider what you could do to make life a little easier for them and their loved ones during this difficult struggle. If there is ever a time to share our compassion it is when life literally hangs in the balance.
To each of you who has survived your own encounter with this disease you have earned the respect and admiration of those who can only imagine what your experience must have been like. You have faced the most severe test there is, and you have endured. You are a member of an ever growing group that has a special dignity and grace that can only be acquired by facing the physical pain and psychological fear that accompanies this heartbreaking diagnosis.
And for those of you who are currently undergoing some form of treatment in your fight to be cancer free please never lose hope, never give in and never ever give up. Because your life matters in so many ways to so many people, it is our sincerest hope that you are able to overcome this challenge. You have our very best wishes for a complete recovery so that in the future you too can inspire others with the words “cancer survivor” alongside your name.
If you would like to join in the fight against this disease please visit the American Cancer Society to see how you can make a difference.