August 16, 2014

Three years

The worst thing about surviving cancer is not the scars, fuzzy fingers and feet, violent colon or fear that cancer will return. No, the worst thing about surviving cancer is knowing people who don't.

Since being diagnosed with cancer I have played a role in the cancer community. It's my way of giving back and I felt the pull early on. There's an important trade off though - being involved and around people with cancer means I meet and chat with people that may die from it (and I'm sure this crosses their minds too). Soon after treatment finished, some people even advised me to put some distance between myself and others with cancer. Their reasons were valid, they were worried about me and how I would respond, longer-term, to people dying from my disease.

I'm intimately aware that cancer kills, and each time I lose someone it's a reminder of how lucky I am (the further from treatment I get the more I surrender to the role of luck in surviving cancer). Each death is a reminder, a healthy reminder, that I am alive. Each passing fills me with gratitude that I knew that person and that I am alive to know more people (both with and without cancer). It's that simple.

That's not to say that each death isn't a sledgehammer of sadness. I cry when I learn about people I know that die from cancer. Each death forces me to (re)dwell on my own experience, survival and cancer journey. Why them? Why me? Why not me? I cry for them, me and everything that is crap about cancer. Questions and tears, off I go, round and round...

Like when the marine biologist in her late 20s passed away. Or the 30-something father of three who built a pizza oven for his kids in the backyard. Or the science grad in his early 20s who fit in one last trip overseas with his partner. Or the wine maker who blew some of her life insurance payout on a shopping spree in Singapore. Or the social worker searching for her father. Or the 20-something creative that touched a thousand lives and then some, but couldn't keep her own.

I cry for them all; I think that's healthy. And sometime later I smile. I smile because they were all awesome people and would be smiling too if they were here. I also smile because I'm alive, and that means I can still meet, learn from, and laugh with, even more people with cancer.