There is a very large part of me that feels like my cancer is old news. I don’t know if this is because it is old news or because since my diagnosis, so many of my own friends have been diagnosed, treated, and moved on with life - while I sit at my laptop and continue to write about the journey I thought was supposed to have ended 15 years ago.
Survivorship is tough on me and it seems that my relationship with cancer was just a precursor to a series of years full of setback, heartbreak, and challenge. I like to think that all those needle pokes toughened my skin for the battles I didn’t know I’d face in the post-cancer years. Speaking of which, when do those “post-cancer years” end?
What I am asking is: When does a cancer survivor stop pondering the journeys of the past? Perhaps the thinking, questioning, and revelations stop when you’ve drained the journey of all its lessons. My journey is now nearly 15 years ago; but it seems those lessons have not ceased being fruitful.
Today I woke up early, my alarm clock played my morning anthem of, “Before I Die” by Kirk Franklin. The lyrics consist of a series of statements involving the goals Mr. Franklin has before he sees the streets of gold. Every morning those lyrics are woven into my routine:
“Right before I die/ I got to live out my dreams/So I can be/What He planned for me/Not just for me/But so they can see/Much more of Him and less of me.”
To me, the song is an anthem about one man's faith, fears, and future. It has little to do with death and much more to do with reminding me of the deal I made with God 15 years ago, before a single needle jabbed its way into my life.
I was sitting in a makeshift hospital church reading myself old hymns, whose lyrics felt like a heated blanket on cold toes and promising God that if I survived the upcoming journey, I would never shy away from sharing His love.
Sharing that love may come in the form of helping someone laugh when we both know they really need to, holding someone's hand when their new battle is just beginning, or reminding young people that setbacks often lead to seasons of wait - where our integrity, strength, and work ethic are determined.
All of this being said - cancer still strokes, with a brush of vivid color, across my life’s canvas. Her colors bleed into other areas of my life and often influence a deep breath stolen while looking up at a pink sky, or a gentle kiss, left on the cheek of my Mother whose own battle (with Alzheimer’s) is long lasting and stubborn.
Rehashing the memories of my unwanted passenger doesn’t hold me back or occupy space that was meant for other thoughts, but it does provide a filter from which my vision of life continues to evolve.
In the past several years my faith has changed, my goals have changed, and let’s be honest, my weight has changed. While searching for my purpose, I seem to have found the cookie jar with an inability to turn down foods that were meant for special treats; but when you’ve survived such an ordeal, isn’t every day worthy of a special treat? I remember soon after my diagnosis when my parents took me to Applebee’s. I ate a massive burger and when the waitress asked if I’d like a dessert; in my head I said, “Heck, why not? I could die.” So began a pattern - one that I hope to change as my journey continues.
Since my cancer diagnosis, life has introduced seasons of challenge and victory. My wife battles a constant, chronic pain brought on by a bout of bad luck and unknown causes; my Mother battles a long relationship with Alzheimer’s that doesn’t seem to want to let her go home to be with the Lord; and one of my closest friends is now in the throes of a heated relationship with a brain tumor. All of these challenges, I believe I am uniquely equipped to carry, subdue and comfort the human participant - due to the once unwanted addition in my life, known as Hodgkin’s disease.
Cancer equipped me with the ability to empathize, to feel deeply what others are experiencing. In my wife’s case: While I am not the perfect caregiver, she knows she can count on my bulldogged determination to get her seen, heard, or cared for. In my Mother’s case: Cancer was the original relationship sealant that has now led to my unique and spiritual bond with her that surpasses my ability to explain it. And, for my friend who now has a new addition to his brain, one that he didn’t want and certainly didn’t deserve, cancer has given me the ability to not forget about him; to not stop believing for peace, and hopefully the ability to share from my own little black book of cancer survival secrets.
I suppose what I am getting at, or more likely just now realizing, is that cancer for me may never be old news. I don’t think the reason I had cancer at the peak of physical fitness, was because God wanted to give me something to do (receive chemo) every other Tuesday. Perhaps my relationship with cancer was given to me so that I could comfort others who are not sure how to comfort themselves . . . and that will never be old news.