The ugliest word in the dictionary: cancer

Published 4:34 pm Friday, September 29, 2017

September is childhood cancer awareness month and soon it will be October, breast cancer awareness month. It seems like there’s a constant reminder of cancer, but there’s no reminder more real than the day you find out a loved one has been diagnosed.

I was five-years-old when my Granddaddy passed away from lung cancer. I was lucky to spend those five years with him, but I sadly don’t remember much. People say I have his eyes and his tiny lips, so even though he’s not here I still can carry on his physical characteristics for years to come. At the age of five, I thought I wouldn’t hear the “C word” for a long time.

While 14 years later seems forever long, it was still too soon to hear that word again. I was in college and my friend had a lump on her neck. The doctor at our immediate care sent her to get a biopsy done. She was from California and her parents couldn’t be in Tuscaloosa, so I took her and held her hand while they stuck that long needle in her neck. We left with only a Band-Aid on her neck; feeling like the worst was behind her. Fast forward one week, she calls and tells me she has thyroid cancer.

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I couldn’t believe it. We were 18 and 19-years-old; she was too young for cancer. She dropped most of her classes and had to start getting radiation at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham. I would take her to most of her appointments and go pick her up a day later, after her one-night stay. I really wasn’t sure if it was working, because she kept it mostly to herself. In March she got her thyroid out and started to recover, but it still wasn’t the girl I began college with. She seemed so much more cautious. She used to be carefree and not have a worry in the world. I didn’t blame her for worrying though, I was terrified as a bystander.

I thought once again cancer was behind me, and I wouldn’t hear of it again any time soon. The next year a girl in the grade below my sister, Alex, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. It was a shock to our community, but nothing was more shocking than when her sister was diagnosed almost one month later with a different brain tumor. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t imagine what her family was going through. I thought back to the time we had spent together in high school, were those my last memories I would have with her? They both fought this disease like the true strong women they are. The youngest sister completed an eight-hour brain surgery, radiation treatments and oral chemotherapy. The older sister has completed her own monthly chemotherapy events and is now being honored at Polo in the Pines. They have now both rung the bell to signal the fight is over.

I wanted to run and hug them and cry with them, but all they wanted were to be treated like any other student. I guess I can never understand why God bestows this horrible disease on such young, charismatic people. I can say it’s not fair to them, but it’s not fair to anyone. No family member or friend wants to see his or her loved one go through that. No one wants to ask that scary question “will they survive?”

Although I haven’t had a friend fight the breast cancer fight, I would urge anyone to get tested if they had the option. I don’t want anyone to feel that gut-dropping feeling when they’re told, “You have cancer.” Maybe just one mammogram or one yearly physical would prevent it from ever happening. Please consider it; I know all those around would feel more at peace.