For Shelly…

Dear Cancer,

I don’t just hate you, I’m terrified of you. You have changed my life forever in ways I never thought¬†imaginable.

When I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college, I was having the time of my life. I was living in a dorm with all my sorority sisters and doing all the things college girls do. One night, during my mid-term exams, that life came to a screeching halt. The phone rang and it was my dad. My dad never called at night! He always called early in the morning to make sure I was there. ūüôā ¬†But this night, he chose to call and had some news…news I never thought I would hear. “Your mother had an irregular mammogram. And they did a biopsy today. The results showed it was cancer. She will be having surgery tomorrow…a mastectomy.” You know, I can’t even remember how I responded other than crying. I was told to get ¬†in touch with my cousin who was also at the same school and had a car….and he was to take me to see her the next day after her surgery and bring me back for exams. ¬†All I know is that I was in shock and a state of disbelief. I couldn’t be losing my mother! Not at this age. I still needed her!

That was my first encounter with cancer involving someone close to me. I was young, bullet-proof and emotionally¬†unequipped¬†to deal with the aftermath. Seeing her in the hospital after surgery, hooked up to all the tubes and wires, in pain and helpless was surreal.What do I do? I don’t even remember whether I spoke to her.

My mom came through the surgery fine and did three months of chemo with all the vomiting, etc. while I was at school. I came home between quarters and did what I could but I mostly stayed at school because I couldn’t handle it emotionally and had no idea what to do at home. I didn’t know how to help my mother or cook. Some of my family think poorly of me to this day for being distant during this time. But I couldn’t. And obviously my father couldn’t handle it either because my mother caught him having an affair while she was going through chemo and my family was torn apart. They divorced shortly after.

Little did I know, cancer would come to haunt me again… and again.

My father was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005. My parents were divorced and my dad had remarried by this time. The tumor in his liver was operable and the fantastic doctor he had felt he could get it all. And he did but told us the chance of re-occurrence was 85%. My father was never the same after surgery. He lived his life in fear of cancer; he went from being a mid-life crisis, sports car driving, party animal, 60 year old who thought he was 40 to a 70 year old man sitting in a recliner, watching sports and refusing to socialize.

My mom struggled through many years of depression from the divorce after 35 years of marriage but managed to come through on the up end and find her own life doing all the things she loved to do and never having to answer to anyone for doing them. If she wanted to spend her entire day quilting or reading, she did. No questions asked.

The summer of 2008, things took a terrible turn. I got a phone call from my mom. She told me her lymph nodes in her neck had been swollen for several weeks and she’d done two round of antibiotics but they were still enlarged. Her doctor was sending her to an ENT. Within a week, she saw the ENT and he wanted to do further tests…a biopsy. My sister Kelly said she would go with her.

On July 17th, I got the call that the biopsy results were in. It was cancer. Thus began the journey again.

My mother came to live with us in August of 2008 to get cancer treatment for throat cancer that had¬†metastasized¬†to the lungs. ¬†We did chemo….and chemo…until her frail body could take no more. She finally got to the point she couldn’t get up anymore. And we stopped. We battled pneumonia a few times; the last time we called for hospice. She made it a few days past one year. She died July 25th, 2009.

The real kicker to all this…when my mom was near the end….having hallucinations and calling for unknown people, we go the call that my dad’s liver cancer was back. He headed down to Shand’s in Gainesville, FL to see a specialist.

His surgeon thought it should all be simple. The surgeon even planned to film the surgery for instructional purposes. My father celebrated his 75th birthday with us in Gainesville on June 1st, 2009, the night before his surgery. On June 2nd, the surgery took place but it was not as simple as the surgeon had hoped. ¬†Arteries were involved and repaired but didn’t work the way expected after surgery. He was on life support for 15 days before my step mother decided it was time to let him go. He died June 17th, 2009…three weeks before my mother.

I didn’t bother to work in the three or four times my dad had melanomas removed. That somehow seems trivial now. ¬†Isn’t that stupid? How can any cancer be trivial??? And my husband has had two basal cell cancers removed from his arm. I’m told those aren’t fast spreading so I take it for granted.

But cancer has tested me and I can only say that it has tested me second hand. I haven’t had it myself or had to face the thoughts some must go through when they are diagnosed. But it made me an orphan in a three week time span. It left me in the store looking at Father’s Day cards for my husband and realizing I don’t have to buy one for MY father anymore. It left me holding my phone in my hand in the kitchen realizing I can’t call my Mama to see how to cook something. It left me explaining to my two small children that their Papa and Gran aren’t coming back. It left me with a void only a Mama can fill.

I’ve watched friends go through it recently as well and cannot imagine the struggles and turmoil. I just can’t. Cancer tore apart my family. ¬†Cancer changed me and my life forever. I wish I could better express how, but I’m not sure what to say. I made it through my mother’s breast cancer mostly unscathed but her second bout with cancer changed me permanently in so many ways. Some good and some bad. I miss her every single day. And I will never recover.

There just must be a way to overcome this terrible disease. Every time I turn around, someone else has cancer. We have to put a stop to it. It’s time….cancer must die.