This first week in November is always a bit of a doozy for me emotionally. Growing up it was a week that was anticipated with growing excitement as we celebrated my birthday along with both Mum and Jo’s birthdays. Now, following Mum and Jo’s deaths from this abhorrent disease, it also holds the emptiness and silence that cancer brought to these once vibrant celebrations as well as the anniversary of Mum’s death.
So, I thought I would let it all out and write a letter to cancer to say exactly what I was feeling this week. Better out than in I say!
Oy, Cancer … The Big C … yes you … I’m talking to YOU!
AND EVERYONE ELSE
Have you any idea of the crippling pain and loss you have poured out on us?
Have you any idea how many tears I’ve shed because of what you seem to delight in?
Do you know what you have done?
May be you knew exactly what you were doing, and that pain, and those tears were your evil intention all along. But I want to tell you EXACTLY what you’ve done to me personally so you can feel my pain. I want you to feel my pain ripping through you.
Do you even feel pain?
I think you’d have liked my mum if you’d just taken the time to get to know her a little before you killed her. That night, when she called, I was enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet in a hot steaming bath on the top floor of our London house. She asked whether I was sitting down? The insistent tone of her voice immediately dissolved the wise crack about my post baby nakedness that I was about to throw at her. She obviously had something to tell me and it wasn’t good. I felt the dread rise within me.
Have you ever felt dread, Cancer?
That’s when she told me you’d come to stay and weren’t going to leave.
For my sweet mum you’d chosen one of your deadliest gifts – aggressive, small cell, inoperable lung cancer. How could you? What had she ever done to you?
Her steady, measured voice coming down the line from Vancouver, Canada was calm, reassuring and, as always, focused on me and how I would react. Just a year later, despite every attempt to get you to leave, my dear stepfather, my two older sisters, and I sat with her and held her hand as you finished your work and discarded her empty shell. Despite your best efforts, she passed away peacefully.
But you hadn’t won. Oh no… She never let you win. She was as selfless, courageous and dignified in her last hours as ever. You couldn’t take that from her. I miss her deeply. I miss her everyday. You could never know how much.
Have you ever loved anyone, Cancer?
Five years later I was in a staff meeting at church in Charlotte, NC when I took another call; this one from England. They had found a lump in my sister’s esophagus. I knew immediately you were at it again. Spreading your fear and death through my family. But you’re good at hiding; I’ll give you that. It took a while for them to finally determine why my vivacious, chef and culinary genius of a sister, had lost so much weight. I was right; that lump WAS you. You were in her lungs and so big you were pushing on her throat making swallowing nearly impossible.
A couple of weeks later The Ford sisters sat together as you stared defiantly back at us from the x-ray monitor. There you were. You couldn’t hide now. You didn’t even try a different weapon. Again you were aggressive, small cell, in operable lung cancer. Fifteen months later I sat with my sweet father and older sister, holding her hand as she too passed away peacefully. As selfless, courageous and dignified in the last hours as ever. You couldn’t take that from her either. I miss her deeply too.
Did you know that the pain of the loss of them both runs far deeper than the sum of the pain I feel for them individually?
How does that work? That grief feeds on grief?
I reckon you bank on that little equation running in your favor.
And you know exactly what you did next, don’t you? How less than two months after I had said goodbye to Jo, I was told that I either had cancer or lymphoma. It was you again. A lose:lose scenario. Either way, you were back in our family and this time I was your prey. Ten days later it was confirmed.
Your chosen weapon this time – rectal cancer.
………..Are you kidding me?
Cancer, let me tell you about the vacuum of hollow silence that swallows you when you’re told you have cancer. Let me tell you how, despite this silence, the world caves in on all you know and love and the roar of a tidal wave of panic and fear comes at you and feeds greedily on that silence until you want to explode and be consumed by the darkness.
But I think you know all this already don’t you? And that’s what you feed on. The panic and fear, grief and loss, nausea and hair loss. They’re fuel to your depraved existence aren’t they?
That’s why I want to tell you, and everyone you come into contact with, about the hundreds of things that will make you wilt and wither. Like pouring water on the Wicked Witch of the West, these things will make you shrivel up and dissolve in a puff of love, laughter and light. Unfortunately they wont wipe you off the face of this beautiful planet entirely, but they WILL take away the power you have over humanity.
And without power, you are just a nobody.
A description of a condition.
A disease… stripped of your identity.
No longer entitled to the status of “proper noun”
… just a common noun.
…………………cancer not Cancer…………………..
I want to tell you about LOVE, humor, light and friendship. About moments when I breathed in the fresh breath of God and breathed out the fear and pain you’d settled on me. With Him inside me there was no more room for your fear.
I want to tell you about the times I laughed until my tummy ached and my poop bag leaked, and you became a side issue that I mopped up and flushed away.
I want to tell you how strangers loved me and gave of themselves. About friends who sat in the poop with me, waited patiently outside bathrooms and swore they didn’t hear a thing.
Of course I want to throw at you how you brought out the best in my kids, showed me the strength of my husband and glued my family together with the bond of shared adversity that will never be broken.
But most of all, I want to tell you that I am unconditionally loved by the God of the universe and you cannot take that away from me or anyone else.
And when I’ve told you, I’m going to tell these truths, and how they cripple you, to the whole wide world.
YOU WILL HATE IT.
But not as much as I hate you.
And certainly not as much as God loves us.
My prayer is that the people whose lives you have disfigured find hope, humor and grace in that darkest place you take them to.
We may not always win the physical battle over you, but we can most certainly win the emotional and spiritual battle!
So cancer … as the good vicar’s wife that I am … I say in a loving Christian way,
LEAVE ME ALONE!!
PS.I hope you get cancer and die!