Cancer has touched nearly every family. I doubt there is anyone without a story. My first close encounter ended when I spent my 14th birthday at my grandmother’s funeral. Since then, we’ve had several friends that battled a long road of treatments and surgeries and came out survivors.
It’s been over 20 years since my grandmother passed and the news of another diagnosis brought me to my knees. My Aunt Donna, my mother’s sister, the same departed grandmother’s daughter. A woman who has been consistently there for every important moment in my life.
When I was little, and we visited Florida every year, she would wake me up early to watch the sunrise. Before she and my uncle had kids she would bravely take me and my brothers for the weekend. I’m not kidding about the brave part- we once flipped a grocery cart full of food and my baby brother, on her watch. Oh, how I wish I had a photo of that! Her daughter, an only child has been more like a baby sister to me than a cousin. She was the oldest bridesmaid in my wedding. She has the best laugh and the greatest sense of humor. She can retell our family history with such vigor you’ll want to be adopted. She never treated me like a kid but never expected perfection; and always told it to me straight with a kindness I have a hard time describing.
And now, she has breast cancer. A large lump in her right breast. I felt it. It is large, and hard. And it scares the hell out of me.
About a month before her cancer diagnosis and before I knew anything; I had a dream about her. She was walking around topless flaunting her new boob job. The flaunting resulted in sunburn, which then prevented her still from wearing a shirt, which brought us to hysterics in the dream. So of course I had to tell her about her awesome new rack — from my dream. I sent it in a text. I found out a few weeks later that my text came less than 24 hours after her biopsy.
Losing my grandmother drastically changed our family. It transferred the role of matriarch to my aunt, who possibly had it all along. She has always been the glue that holds us all together. No one has ever “worried” about Aunt Donna. Because she is the encouraging, positive, healthy, loving, generous, and hysterical force that keeps in touch with everyone. Even though she works a lot, she has never let it get in the way of her relationships.
She’s just received her 4th chemotherapy treatment. The medical staff nicknamed the drug she gets “The Red Devil”. It is so highly toxic, it can’t be put in an IV bag. It makes her pee red; it took all of her hair and sends a beautiful, energetic woman right to bed. We decided the drug needed a more positive nickname, so now it’s Strawberry Shortcake. But we picture her with a sword.
Cancer is an isolating illness. My aunt has an awesome husband and daughter that have been with her every step of the way. She has a large community of friends and family that reach out to her from a distance. One of the worst things for me through this process is that I haven’t been able to see much of her. Chemotherapy patient’s take such a hit to their immune system, little germ monsters like mine are problematic. After her first treatment, she spent a few nights in the hospital because her white count was so low a slight sinus infection sent her reeling. The longer I go without seeing her, being in the same room with her, without laughing with her through this – the harder it is. This also means she goes without seeing my munchkins. It’s really hard to feel bad with a bright eyed toddler snapping sassy remarks and a sweet quiet girl coloring beside you. Kids can be such stress relievers, and excellent distractions; especially when they are just visiting.
She said to me recently that one of the hardest things about this illness is seeing the people that are fighting it on their own. Those patients who rely on strangers and services to give them rides to their treatment and sit through it alone. She mentioned how seeing a frail kerchief cladded woman out in the world saddens her. That the treated, take on a role of invisible. I can’t argue with her there. Since my aunt’s diagnosis, I have noticed these women more clearly.
Starting this month and all months going forward let’s acknowledge all cancer patients for the warriors they are. Say a prayer for the women, men and children fighting. Send a meal or a card to someone in your community. Sign up to provide transportation to a patient in need. Even just say hello to the woman at the grocery store. Let your toddler show her the ballerina tutu she refused to leave the house without. Maybe even let the little one barrage them with stories about cat farts – yes that really happened. If my aunt has taught me anything, it’s that laughter is the best medicine.
Use the comment section to share your experience with cancer, and honor the warriors you love.
American Cancer Society
Every day thousands of cancer patients need a ride to treatment, but some may not have a way to get there. Click the link for more information on The Road to Recovery Program
Strawberry Shortcake Photo Credit: Pop Psychology Perfected in Purple