Today, I’m not writing because the words are burning on my chest. In fact, I would rather ignore the subject all together, but I have to write about cancer. More specifically, I have to write about what cancer does. Not what we think it does, but what it really does.
What we think cancer does is kill people. And we’re right, people die from cancer all the time as well as some who survive. Over 100 different types of cancer rampaging through the world touching almost every family and every person by the time you reach your thirties. Cancer causes harm to the human body when abnormal cells begin to divide uncontrollably. Usually defined by the cells first affected, most cancers cause tumours to grow which can eventually interfere with the function of vital organs or in the instance of leukemia, it alters the cells in the bloodstream. Sometimes cancer spreads to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, in a process called metastasis.
What many people don’t realise is that approximately only 10% of people die from their primary tumours. Once a tumour metastasizes, the secondary conditions are extraordinarily hard to treat and that is what most people eventually die from.
That’s a problem because on the whole, humanity is becoming more afraid of death than ever. We’re fighting to prolong the lives of our elders, let alone the young. I’ve written about this in the past; while my friend Jared was dying of bowel cancer. We end up fighting not to die, because that’s what we think cancer does.
But here’s what cancer really does. Cancer gets in the way of living and it gets in the way of families. You might think I’m playing semantics here, but I’m really not. What Jared taught me and what we pondered together was how to live out of your purpose and not be distracted by trying to stop cells multiplying where they shouldn’t.
On Boxing Day, we lost our friend Ruth. She was about my age and had been married for three years after what seemed like a lifelong wait at the time. Turns out, she spent a good deal of her actual lifetime waiting for Harley. No one would argue that it wasn’t worth every moment. Not long after, she fell pregnant and then discovered a brain tumour. Her darling wee girl was delivered prematurely. Ruth got to be a mother, she got to live that beautiful dream for 18 months; full of hope, faith, sadness and joy. Motherhood interrupted. The lasting, indelible marks of her life will always be joy, laughter, delight and beauty. She was beautiful from the inside out. Cancer has interrupted her family and changed forever the path of her husband, daughter and dearest friends.
On Boxing Day night, I learned my darling workmate Rebecca ‘Bangs’ Hyndman, had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer on Christmas Eve. She’s been given a few months at best but remains in critical condition. Her son, Ben, is just over four weeks old. Her husband, Jeff, now faces the interruption. Cancer, once again – getting in the way of families and people living out their purpose. Motherhood interrupted. Becs is straightforward as she always has been – she’s not going to be distracted in these last weeks from her purpose – to love her boys and do her best for them.
What would a mother do for her husband and son about to face an immense loss?Everything she could to provide comfort, nurture and sustenance. There are no shortage of family and friends who will rally with time and effort – but you don’t have to be a genius to realize paternity leave isn’t going to stretch far enough for this one. So there’s a donation page been set up here – Give A Little. Why would you consider giving? Probably because nobody needs 1000 lasagna or beef casseroles. Because 18 years of child raising on a single income is daunting, let alone in the face of grief. Because most 30 year olds don’t have life insurance. Because it’s symbolic of saying, “I’ll help you care for your family and accomplish this task“.
In all this; I’m mindful of my friend Kelly, also facing a terminal diagnosis. I remember Jared and how he did not let cancer interrupt his purpose and in doing so, left a legacy for his daughter Elise. His purpose wasn’t what he thought it was, but he embraced it as soon as he recognized it.
Back to what cancer really does. Cancer gets in the way of families, gets in the way of living. We can easily get confused and think we must give all our attention to fighting the cancer, to stopping the cells from growing. We ought to fight, sensibly. Cure what we can – but we must not stop living in order not to die. Strangely, cancer cells don’t like to die.The whole problem is that they grow and live and keep on living; unlike every other cell in the body. We can’t control those cells. Normal cells, regular cells all follow a cycle of creation, growth, life and then death. Without death, we have a problem.
We fight cancer because we don’t want it to kill us. Because even though we all must die, we don’t want to die from cancer. We ought to fight to live. Every moment, every day. Leaving an impression behind us – whether in a child or a friendship or a piece of music, art, a business deal or a well-manicured garden.
Today, I’m writing because it’s part of who I am, my purpose on this green and blue orb hanging in space. To observe the world and tell others what I see. I hope that it changes you or moves you or challenges you as I am challenged also by what I see and learn as I study others.
Today, I’m writing to acknowledge death will come to us all but until that day – tomorrow, next Wednesday or in June some years from now, I will live. I will try.
In living, consider where else metaphorical cancer is getting in the way of your family and your life’s purpose. Are toxic relationships or bad habits, insecurities or deep internal misbeliefs that are doing what cancer does? Stopping you from living and getting in the way of your family or relationships? Are old grudges or judgmental thoughts stopping you from being truly yourself or allowing others to be truly themselves? Get yourself a health check or give yourself one before you enter the New Year.
I’m working on my own; the fear of judgement from others, a sense of inferiority, a longing to belong somewhere I can call home. Stay tuned and work on it with me.
Wise and thought provoking as always. I’m concerned at how much we talk about ‘fighting’ a disease or illness. What would it look like to Live life to the full everyday regardless of our own inadequacies and come face to face with death. Do we put too much emphasis on living and not enough on dying?
“Whoever tries to save their life will lose it, but the one who loses their life will preserve it.” Or as you say, physical death comes from not be willing to die the little deaths.