She and I would often go out together, usually to the movies or to the mall to get a treat. “A date,” she’d call it. I loved those dates, and I loved the chance to go out and feel special for a couple of hours. And when she’d go out on a date with one of my other siblings I would be so jealous that I’d throw a tantrum. Well, I remember throwing a tantrum one time. I can only hope I never threw more than one tantrum… ever.
But dreams are for free.
(A day at the beach. Dad's behind the camera. I'm the one in the pink shorts.)
As I grew older I grew resentful. I suppose it was just the typical teenage years that everyone experiences. I was the fourth out of five children, and by the time it was my turn to be the emotional teenager I was blossoming into my mother had had enough. I’m mostly sure it was the fact that she’d had five kids in a six-year-period that drove her crazy. Mostly.
But time passes in that strangely liquid way and the next thing I knew I was an adult, attending an out-of-state university and sucking at it pretty hard. I was desperate for an out. I knew that I wasn’t going to make it that semester—my final semester of university before I got my Bachelor’s Degree. I was already on academic probation and I could sense my academic demise swiftly approaching.
(During a good time while I was in college. My sweet friend John at my side.)
Then, as luck would have it, a break came.
It came in the form of a phone call from my mother. She and I had been pretty distant over the previous six years and I tried to stay as far away from her as possible. I figured that the best way to keep my sanity was to keep my distance from home. But when Mom called on the third day into the new semester to tell me she had breast cancer I knew exactly what I needed to do. And I needed to do it right away.
I immediately made the decision to drop out of school and go home. I had rationalized that it was the right thing for me to do, being the youngest daughter and the only child out of the five NOT to have a family of her own to take care of. I knew that everyone else was far too busy with their own lives to have the opportunity to give the folks the attention they needed. I also knew that I would probably be the only one to volunteer to move back home and take care of our parents while they went through what would possibly be the most difficult time of their lives.
But most of all, I knew that I needed to get myself as far away from the place that I was at as fast as possible. I knew that I was incredibly depressed and was spiraling further and further into misery. It was then that I realized I needed my parents just as much as they needed me.
Not that my dad would admit that he needed help. Of course he’d welcomed me with open arms, but at the same time he would’ve been just as happy had I stayed in college and kept my distance. I suppose he and I are a lot alike in that way; always content in our solitude but also always happy to have company.
I have a clear memory of showing up at their house, Dad swinging the door open wide to welcome me home, and my first loving sentence to him being, “What’s on your nose? Dad, that’s cancer!” He responded by saying, “Is that what it is? I’ve been wondering…” I just rolled my eyes and barged my way in, fending off the tongue bath the dog was trying to give me.
So as it turned out, both of my parents had cancer at the same time. Strange how life plays these little tricks on people.
I spent the next three months living with my parents in the house that I spent my formative years in. I’d gotten settled in and then helped out around the house as much as my mother would allow. She also didn’t like having me take her to the doctor. She always had Dad take her, and secretly I was relieved. I’d already seen enough after she’d come out of surgery the first time.
It was strange realizing that cancer had staked a claim in my very own family. I had gone from blissful ignorance to shocked reality, and from there to self-education and finally to a slight understanding. Of course I could never fully understand the experience of cancer without first experiencing it myself. But I learned a great deal from watching both of my parents fight their own battles with the beast, whether great (Mom’s Breast Cancer) or small (Dad’s Skin Cancer).
I started gaining a new respect for both of my parents, especially for my mother. Yes, she was crazy, and yes she got on my nerves quite often. But I also knew that she was the woman who willingly walked through the valley of the shadow of death to give me life. She was the woman who raised me in the ways of integrity and faith. And as I learned from the three months of living with her as she struggled through her surgeries and treatments, she was much stronger and more brave than I ever thought possible. I couldn’t help but admire that.
It was after two lumpectomies and a full series of chemotherapy that I decided they no longer needed me. Mom was doing well and was about to start with the radiation therapy. And Dad had undergone his Moh's surgery for the small bit of skin cancer he’d had on his nose. It seemed as though they’d gotten a grip on life once again and were walking full-stride ahead.
As for me? Well, things had gotten better for me. I found that life had new meaning to me once I saw that my future held endless potential. And I'd finally regained that sense most young twenty-something-year-olds have that the world was my oyster, and I was eagerly anticipating the next chapter in my crazy life. And so I moved on.
If you or a loved one are, have, or may be in the process of Navigating Cancer, I applaud you for your courage and strength. May God be with you and yours as you battle to conquer the beast.