I’m pretty ill equipped to give anyone advice on how to best navigate the cancer journey. I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. There are a few things though that really helped me, so I’ll pass those along after I quickly tell you about my hero.
Five years ago my baby was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Drew was actually 18 years old but still he was, and always will be, my baby. After the protocol chemotherapy and radiation failed we were given the devastating news that our only option for a possible cure was for Drew to receive a bone marrow transplant. I won’t go into the details of numerous surgeries, treatments, hospitalizations, scans, and illnesses because the weight of those stories takes away from the point of writing this letter. I’m not sure what that point is yet but it isn’t to make you sad. I’m also not going to tell you how unbelievably courageous Drew was throughout each of those hellish events because if I start talking about how incredible my son is, I’ll go on forever.
So here are a few things that I have learned.
You are not alone. If you feel like you are, reach out; someone will grab your hand. If your experience is anything like ours, you’ll soon realize that we hold our breaths together through each new scan. We hold each other up when we can’t stand on our own, and celebrate together with complete awareness that celebration is what life is about.
There are two possibilities as a result of cancer – death or survivorship. While I prayed, bargained, and pleaded to be on the survivor path it is definitely different than what I had imagined. In my fairytale version the doctor declares us cancer free and the rest of life is just one big sigh of relief. In reality too many survivors face depression, guilt, and a struggle to redefine themselves. Remain open to the possibility that the battle may not be over with a test result.
The last thing that I learned is a little cliché but it continues to be something I strive for. Be present. Take each moment for what it is without fear of what-ifs so you stay close to what really matters. The cancer journey puts life into hyper-focus, amplifying every awful moment as well as those filled with joy, appreciation, and intense love. Be present for each one of them with the full realization that this moment will never happen again.
Author: Pam Carter. Mother of AYA warrior, Drew.