24 October 2013

There is no "Good" Cancer

About a year or so ago, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Fortunately, the tumor was removed and no other treatment was needed. No nasty radiation or chemo. Still, my friend was terrified. While walking out of a doctor's appointment with her one afternoon, I said, "At least it was easy to treat."

Translation: At least you had the good kind of cancer.

What was supposed to be a comforting statement was, in actuality, a very stupid thing to say. There is no "good" cancer. There is no "easy" cancer. The word itself strikes fear in the hearts of nearly everyone.

I didn't realize that until I heard the word used in reference to my husband.
My sweet, gentle, and kind best friend of 15 years. My spouse of 13 years. The man who has supported me through more trials than I can list in one blog post.

Our marriage hasn't always been easy. We fought to stay together and won, and the idea of losing him haunted me in my dreams - even though he was facing one of the "good" cancers, thyroid cancer. It didn't matter that only a tiny percentage of thyroid cancers attack and kill within months. I didn't hear the part about how most people don't need any additional nasty treatments. All I heard was CANCER.

I came down with shingles a few weeks ago. The doctor asked me if I was under stress and I nearly crumbled under the weight of the question. I tried my best to hand the situation over to God and go on with my life until the date of my husband's surgery, but I constantly found myself on the verge of tears, and one night I broke down and sobbed in front of my husband.

On the afternoon of his surgery, I was sitting in the surgical waiting room with my sweet father, picking poppy seeds out of my teeth from a bagel I'd eaten in the cafeteria earlier that morning and reading a copy of some mindless fashion magazine when I was ushered into the "consultation room" to meet with the surgeon. He told me a sample of the growth on my husband's thyroid had been frozen and sliced, and no cancer was found, but we would have to wait several days to receive more test results to confirm his findings.

That was a Thursday. The following Tuesday, we found out my husband's thyroid is cancer-free. He got to keep half of it, thank God. Hopefully he won't need medication for the rest of his life.

Biggest. Sigh. Of. Relief. Ever.

Ah, but as I write this, another biopsy is looming, this time of his tongue. There's a strange thing on the side of it. I can't explain it - you'd have to see it. Maybe he's just biting it in his sleep. Maybe it's the C Word. Who knows?

So, now I'm thinking back on all the times I told someone, "Oh, it's probably nothing!" Like that would somehow allay their fears. Like if Julie Fidler doesn't think it's anything serious, there's no way it could possibly be serious. It reminds me of the times I used to ask my mother growing up, "Mom, what if you die?" I was a little kid awakening to the fact that no one is promised another day, minute, second, or even breath. Her response was always the same: "I'm not going to die." I'd ask her how she could possibly know that and she'd say, "I just know."

It was a lot easier than saying, "Well, honey, Mommy could drop dead any minute now. Go back to pulling the heads off your Barbie dolls."

Behind every "it's probably nothing" is the reality that "it could be something." So I've learned, the hard way, not to pretend the possibility doesn't exist. It doesn't help to pretend there's no reason for concern.

So, if I ever said any of those things to you...I'm sorry. Sometimes you don't realize how ridiculous you sound until you're in somebody else's shoes. Shoes you'd always hoped you'd never have to try on.

As for worry...I think it's a lot like forgiveness, which is a topic I actually do know a lot about. Sometimes you have to forgive over and over again. It's more of a process than a once-and-done decision. Worry seems to work the same way. You have to give it to God repeatedly, because it does like to creep back into your psyche.

Just don't ignore it or pretend it's not there. Don't poo-poo anyone else's worries, either. Acknowledge that you're freaked out and then try to de-freak. Hand your freaking fears to God.

Again. And again. And again.


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