Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cancer Sucks

I found this really awesome window sticker the other day and it expressed my feelings for cancer perfectly.

There’s just no other way to express my anger and hatred for this awful disease.
September is the American Cancer Society’s month of awareness for many cancers, including the cancers that have decided to camp out in my dad, those in the leukemia/lymphoma family.
Really? There are so many cancers they have to be assigned to families? All 12 months of our calendar have to have a type of cancer awareness, and some have to share because there are more than 12? 
There is a lot I don’t know about cancer. There is also the idea that it wouldn’t have affected me any closer than my grandfather, who died 33 years ago after being diagnosed with leukemia. He only lasted a week after his diagnosis.
And yet, there are stories of hope and survival that make all the bad a little more bearable.
***
I was driving to Salt Lake, The Script streaming through my speakers. Lily was in the back seat, her toddler feet bobbing up and down, her rose-shaped mouth covered with chocolate chip crumbs. We were on our way to the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Lily stopped eating her chocolate chip bunny crackers to join in on her favorite part of the song: “And my mates are all there trying to calm me down, because I’m shouting your name all over town…”
I felt the same need to shout, but I didn’t think God was listening, so I refrained, believing that my voice would have traveled nowhere, finding nothing in which to fling itself on in anger except thin air, which would have dissolved it into faint echoes.
 
Lily and I found ourselves traveling the same route often that spring, listening to the same song, as we traveled to the Cancer Institute to see my father. When we’d get there, we’d come in quietly (as quietly as a then-three-year-old would allow) and there he’d be, sometimes asleep, sometimes awake, but looking almost nothing at all like the man he’d been before the tumors had waged war on his brain. Although his hair had turned white, his skin still had a tint of a farmer’s tan, leftover from two seasons before. But lying in the hospital bed, tubes like snakes crisscrossing each other down his arms, it was as if there was a veil over him, one that shrouded health and middle age. The sharp scent of disinfectant emanated around the room – a scent I’d never associated with him until he was in that bed.
 
There were the times when Shawn was home from his trips as an airline pilot, and on those times, we’d sometimes leave Lily with my mom and go to Salt Lake together on a morbid kind of date. There was the time after they had opened his skull to take a piece of the tumor to see what kind of cancer had taken up residence inside his brain. We were all worried that it would be the other kind of cancer, the one that no one could pronounce, so we always referred to it as “the bad kind.” When Shawn and I got to his room, my stepmom took a break from his bedside.

Just as I had done the night he’d been rushed to the ER because lesions had been seen on his brain from an MRI, I took his hand and stroked it, going over the rough calluses his life as a farmer and cowboy had left behind. His fingers clutched at my hand, softly, but not weakly.
I watched him breathe through tubes and mumble incoherently, the threat of death dangling above him, thick as the blood that bound us together. He was claustrophobic, and I wondered if he was scared, or even knew that death was close to snatching him with its black arms.
 
He won’t remember that I held his hand that afternoon, and he won’t remember when I held it in the ER on the night he was admitted, because the tumors had wrapped themselves around his thoughts, twisting them toward the past. He kept telling me he’d been bucked off another horse, but he’d be all right, and asked me how school was going. He thought I was still seventeen.
The doctor had come in and said that they were going to transfer him to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for “observation.” Of course, they hadn’t said it was cancer then, but I knew better. I knew as I slumped against the wall that a patient wouldn’t be taken to the best cancer treatment center in the state for any reason except cancer.
There were small battles lost that spring. The aftermath scars are still etched into our bones, but, as with any scars, we touch them and smile slightly at what they cost.
And they make us stronger, but not impenetrable. Chainmail scars can’t protect us completely from new hurts.  Or new cancers.
We are still fighting the newest diagnosis. We are still fighting this cancer war. But battle by battle, we just might win.