Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What to Expect when you are Expecting Cancer

About 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with a new cancer this year. According to the American Cancer Society, that number doesn't even count basal and squamous cell skin cancers. 577,000 people are expected to die of cancer. That is one person a minute. Many of those cancers can be prevented by not overusing alcohol or tobacco. For some people, those who have family histories of cancer or mutations that are known to result in cancers- the preventative measures are bleak. What is abundant are the questions, the worries, the risks, and the unknowns.

Will I get cancer?
When will I get Cancer?
Is there anything I can do?

For those with known mutations, like in the p53 tumor suppressor gene-also called Li Fraumeni Syndrome, these questions can often lead to an overwhelming sense of futility. I've heard of ladies being told they have merely months to live- so they cash out their life insurance policy, run up all available credit cards and live it up for months- travelling, partying, living. Yet when those months turn into years, suddenly they are faced with a new prospect- Living on borrowed time, and a bunch of debt. Also what many non mutants call, life.

Everyone at some point faces a life altering, spirit moving moment. A moment that forever changes the path they were on due to a change in the expectations for the future. That moment came for me when my daughter was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. I spent most of my life knowing that cancer followed me like an unwanted shadow- sometimes leaping in front of me- a reminder of the darkness that envelops when you are consumed by it. I never pretended that it wouldn't touch me- I just chose to live the moments I could until it did and not waste those moments worrying that it would.

But then there were these big green eyes asking me- why? And her brothers and sisters wanted to know why too. As often as I told them it wasn't there fault- the little voice inside my head screamed- of course it's not- it's yours. The gene after all came from me. A gene that had a 50/50 chance of hitting them. I would never point a gun at my head or theirs with those odds- why was I cavalier about these?  Because there are no certainties. I was in my 20's and perfectly healthy. I had seen many incredible places and experienced many of life's wonderful treasures- one of which was falling completely and totally in love with my best friend and becoming a mother. Like the hopeless romantic- I believe that love conquers all and that I would definitely choose to love and have lost than not love at all. That is the same choice each person makes for themselves. There is no right answer, just truth. I look at my children as opportunities to love, not endless opportunities for loss. When your child is severely hurt or diagnosed with a major illness- your mind goes to the possibility of the endless abyss that is losing a child. You are then faced with a choice- to live life with the shadow of loss- or live life with the potential for greatness.

Facing a future with cancer is no different. There are days when the shadow of the abyss creeps closer- the days that are filled with scans and preventative screens. Those days are when the rattle and hum of magnetic imaging machines are silenced by the internal whispers of worry. Days where lumps or bumps or fevers pop up that are nagging darkness threatening a storm. You could ignore these steps, but everything and everyone tells you the storm is coming- your best bet is to catch it early and wait it out. Sometimes it is nothing. There is celebration. Sometimes it is definitely not nothing. It is impossible to not feel the weight of the finality of cancer. It is impossible to deny the pain, emotional and physical and the scars are permanent. But so are the lessons. So is the reaffirmation of life. We get warning bells when others are silently taken. The path is not easy- but it is what we make it. If we make it what we expect- that may be cancer- if we are open to receiving the gifts that are unexpected- we may get much more. And sometimes you have to be careful how hard you look for something- because you may find something you didn't want to. If you are expecting cancer- sooner or later- you might find you have cancer. If you expect to live- sooner or later you might find forever is shorter than you thought and sometimes when you expect to die you might just discover an amazing will to live. That is what you can expect, when you are expecting cancer.

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)