Cancer. I have cancer? Well, that can't be right...that's not what I wanted for my birthday. My life as a healthy seventeen year old ended on August 4th, 2005. My new life as a cancer patient began. But with a whirlwind of hospital appointments, surgery and check-ups, I never stopped to think about how my cancer diagnosis affected my family.
I heard the office door shut quietly as I walked the hallways to the elevator. I stared blankly at the door; I couldn't hear my thoughts over the low hum of the elevator as it made its way to the ground floor. I left the doctor's office building with black tears and smudged mascara all over my cheeks. I wanted to run. Maybe if I ran, I would wake up from this awful dream, but my legs were wobbly and my temples sore from crying so much.
We climbed into the car in silence and drove away. We stopped at a red light and my father passed my mother a few tissues; I could almost hear her tears falling as I swam in my own. I remember the only words spoken in the vehicle...
"Are you going to be alright?"
The question wasn't for me; it was for my mother. She sobbed quietly in the passenger seat. I never thought to ask if she was okay. I sat in the backseat and stared out the window, my vision blurry from crying. I never stopped to think about how my cancer diagnosis made her feel.
Did she worry about me every second of every day? Did she think she might lose her daughter the same way she lost her mother-in-law? Did she think it was her fault somehow? Did she cry herself to sleep most nights...like I did?
Only now at the age of 25, do I take time to think about how my family was affected. We never spoke about how anyone else felt and we still don't.
Did my brother feel neglected? Did my parents inadvertently pay less attention to him? Did he tell his friends? How did having a sister with cancer make him feel? Did my father push aside his issues, to deal with mine? Did he have to tell his work? Was he sad? I want to know the answers to all those questions.
My parents missed work to bring me to my appointments, incurred expenses on medication and other miscellaneous items I needed and stayed long hours at the hospital with me. It was always about me. In retrospect, I feel as though I was selfish. I was seventeen and in a fragile state of mind dealing with my cancer diagnosis.
There must be so much uncertainty, anxiety and sadness.
I'm sure my parents' world came tumbling down around the same time mine did. I do not have children, so I cannot speak of the love and special bond that a parent experiences. I imagine that as a parent, having a child diagnosed with cancer is an upsetting time in one's life. I remember my father saying he felt so helpless. He had always assumed that he would be able to protect his children from everything - but he couldn't shelter me from the pain and fear of the disease. I can only assume my parents were overwhelmed. Having just watched their oldest child's graduation ceremony a month prior, a cancer diagnosis was the last thing they would have ever expected.
My parents still have a hard time discussing that fateful afternoon in August. If I mention it or ask a question, the conversation tends to shift to another topic of interest. This is how I know it was just too much for them to bear.
I was blessed to have parents that put on a brave face.
Even though they must have been feeling so lost and helpless. If I ever cross that road with my own children, I can only hope to put on that same brave face, and be as strong and resilient as they were.