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My Cancer Story

Song Lyric of the Day:

I say the comedy is that it’s serious / This is a strange enough new play on words / I say the tragedy is how you’re gonna spend / The rest of your nights with the light on / So shine the light on all of your friends / When it all amounts to nothing in the end / I won’t worry my life away

Jason Mraz / “The Remedy

Anyone who stops by here on a semi-regular basis knows that for the past several years, I’ve participated in the American Cancer Society‘s Relay for Life. I’m pretty sure my first year participating was 2002 (I miscounted somewhere along the way), and since then I’ve progressed from being a team member to a team captain to a committee member to this year’s Event Chair for the Downtown Knoxville event, which is this Friday, June 25, at the World’s Fair Park. Since this is indeed a post wherein I’m angling for donations to the cause, I figure it’s high time I share my in-depth reasons for doing this. I’ve avoided it for years because, even though I’m one of the lucky ones, it’s still hard talking about it. It’s what all of us who participate in the Relay for Life call our cancer stories. It’s your cancer story whether or not you are the one who fought cancer or you are the loved one, friend, caretaker, or colleague of someone who has or had cancer.

By the time October 2001 rolled around, I was a nervous wreck. In the wake of 9/11, my husband had cut me off from watching the news. My maternal grandfather was dying of cancer. I was working two jobs, one of which was making me physically ill. I barely slept. And I was also stressed because a few weeks earlier my mom had called to let me know that her routine biopsy had shown what looked like a spot. She reassured me, however, that her doctor was at least 80 percent confident it wasn’t cancer. And a doctor would know, right? So I was worrying about her for nothing. Or so she told me.

When she called me a few days before Halloween (I think it was Friday, October 26), I was downstairs and Rich was upstairs in our office loft which opened over the living room. He could hear everything I was saying. To this day all I can really remember about that phone call is hearing the word “cancer,” sobbing, and feeling Rich’s arms wrapping around me from behind as I collapsed to the floor and the phone slipped from my fingers. I can’t remember if I talked to Mom again after that; I believe Rich spoke to her a bit. The rest of the weekend went by in a haze for me. I was heartsick and homesick and desperately wanted to see my mom. When I ran into my friend, Sharon, at a store that weekend, when she asked me how I was, I burst into tears and told her about Mom. She hugged me and held me there in the middle of the store until I stopped crying.

Not long after that, Rich scraped together enough money to buy me a plane ticket home. Still newlyweds, we had far more debt than disposable income at that time, so it was a big sacrifice to fly me home. But Rich did so knowing that’s what I needed right then. Sure enough, when I got home, Mom looked fine. She assured me she felt fine, that they’d caught it early, and she was going to beat it. I flew home a few days later, hating more than ever how far away we lived from our family.
I wasn’t there for when Mom’s hair fell out, for when our family finally began to see the physical manifestations that go hand-in-hand with having and fighting cancer. My youngest sister took on the role of primary caretaker since I wasn’t there to help out and our other sister and Dad were in denial. Until Mom’s hair started falling out, that is. After that, Dad stopped calling it “an inconvenience,” although he still believed with all his heart that Mom would beat it. And, thank God, she did.

I made it to one of her chemotherapy sessions over the holidays later that year, and even though Mom received the treatment via an IV (she didn’t need a port), I ended up running to the bathroom to cry over that scary, bright-red liquid poison being pumped into my mother. Until now, my youngest sister was the only person who knew why I’d bolted for the restroom at that moment.

While my mother fought and beat breast cancer, my grandfather succumbed to his cancer in March 2002. Shortly after that, Sharon, who had a few family members with cancer or who were precancerous, told me about the Relay for Life and asked if I’d like to participate. I said yes, and have been participating every year since. Once we moved back to Knoxville in 2005, my family asked me to lead a team here so they too could participate.

I wish I could say my mom and grandfather are the only people with cancer who personally affected me, but they’re not. One of my best friends has lost too many family members to cancer. My paternal grandmother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor. Sharon lost both parents to different types of cancer within a few years of each other. A close work friend is also a breast cancer survivor. Countless friends have lost their mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents to cancer. And my very dear friend, Liz, is currently fighting cancer.

Now you know my cancer story. I always say I do this for my mom, but now I also do it so my daughter will hopefully one day be able to ask “What was cancer?”

I encourage you to share your cancer story either via comments or a private e-mail to me (I would never share anyone’s story here without first asking permission). And, even if it’s only a few dollars, please donate to my Relay for Life personal page (or any of my teammates’ pages – the money all goes to the same place). Donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE. That $5 or $10 you can spare might just be what gets a cancer patient to their next oncologist appointment. Thank you for your support, and I encourage anyone else who has been touched and affected by cancer to look into participating in their community’s Relay for Life event.

For all you locals, please come out and support us this Friday night at the World’s Fair Park (and support us on Facebook). It’s a FREE event (although teams will have on-site fundraisers so petty cash is a good idea) and is a fantastic way to support the cancer survivors in our community. I’ll be the six-and-a-half-months pregnant woman playing in the fountains in between talking on stage.

Celebrate, remember, and FIGHT BACK.

Quick links:
My personal Relay for Life page
Pick a teammate to donate to
Find a Relay for Life event in your community

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