Summer is the time of year for many guests to arrive, to eat you out of house and home, but sometimes it feels like they will never leave.
Unfortunately, my old friend cancer decided to make a surprise visit as well.
Cancer has visited before. It was almost 25 years ago when I had a stage four growth on my cervix. Yes, this is the kind of thing that occurs to women who have sex, so I hope you are not utterly shocked that I have had sex.
In fact, if you want to know how many people have the HPV virus which can cause cervical cancer, the answer is just about everyone. Really.
According to the U.S. Government, approximately 20 million people between the ages of 18 and 49 have it. But those are only the people who have regular healthcare and have sought treatment. I’m sure there’s another 40 million who can’t afford healthcare and so they go around infecting more people.
There is a giant leap between having this virus, and getting cancer. I made the jump in my first marriage and it was a bomb big enough to leave the marriage in its wake. Not the disease, but the cure. The cure, which entailed surgery, chemotherapy and a long period of abstinence, did us in. What do they say? What does not kill you makes you stronger? Well, cancer killed us.
The next 25 years for me were blissfully free of this unwanted house guest. I was told I was 100 percent rid of the virus and the corrupted cells. In fact, given that nearly everything had been cut out, scraped, and chemically killed, I was indeed, like a virgin. But the truth was that I was just uninformed.
Last year, the guest returned.
I remember the moment my doctor called because I was at a soccer field watching my son play and I couldn’t hear her very clearly. I do know that when a doctor calls you, again and again, and doesn’t leave a message, the news is bad. The first thing I thought was how beautiful my son looked on the field. I never wanted to forget that moment.
It turns out, that all these years when I thought I was a virgin—at least at a cellular level—I might have still had both the virus and the cancer. My doctor said that until recently, the tests weren’t very good at detecting this stuff. I might either have been re-infected, or I might have had it all along. There is no way to know for sure.
However, I do know this for sure, life is terminal. Having the specter of cancer return is a wake up call for me to do what I was meant to do. There are no guarantees, as if there ever were. Cancer makes you present real fast. In that way, it is a gift.
There is no longer a day that I don’t tell my children, and my husband, and even most of my family that I love them. I juice green vegetables more often. I get rest. I practice yoga. I tell my students to live fearlessly, even when they are very afraid. What’s more, I show up day after day to prove the point.
Because if nothing else, the awareness of death makes you live that much better. Death is life’s greatest change agent. Cancer is just its calling card. I didn’t want it to return, but now that it could be here, I promise to be more present. What’s more, I’ll kick its ass by living the best I can, which is really how you should live all the time no matter who decides to show up at your door.
Editor: Brianna Bemel