I hate the cliches of cancer. Words like battle and war and soldier.
But every cliche holds a germ of truth, doesn’t it? As much as I shy away from the term, it is indeed a battle—but not for oil, or religion or land. We’re fighting for our lives. Every day, every moment.
We adopt a soldier’s mentality. We do what we have to do to get the job done. But at what cost? For some, the scars linger long after the war is over. For others, still fighting, putting on that gear every day gets harder as the days turn into months, then turn into years; and while we’re thankful to still be alive, the fighting is taking a toll.
I see cancer as a sniper,hiding, waiting, ready to attack. Sometimes when there’s silence, I relax a bit, forgetting for a moment that I’m in a war zone. Then a bullet flies by and I realize I’m under attack again. I need to make quick decisions with trembling hands and gripping fear. There is no room for error. I’m two years in; by now I know what needs to be done.
I look to my left and beside me is my friend, taken down so quickly I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. When I think about it, though, do any of us really get enough time to say goodbye?
Is it the flat line?
The lack of a pulse?
The once beating heart that now remains still?
What is the true indicator that a life is over?
How can a person be gone when our memories of them are still so alive?
She fought for four years, enduring more than most can ever fathom. She did it with grace and humor, kindness and compassion. She guided me, taught me how to cope in this war; how to find beauty even while walking through hell. She deserved a Medal of Honor, to acknowledge her fortitude and her valor.
I can’t help but see myself in her—it could so easily have been me. But I know she would want me to carry on, to keep fighting until that sniper is nothing but a distant memory. And that’s what I will do—to honor her life and the millions before her. We stand together as one.
Time passes, life continues.
One day, I’m mindlessly going through my old voicemails—you know, the ones you save because they make you smile? Yeah, those—and I hear a friend’s voice and she’s crying because she’s so happy about my last scan results and she’s saying, “It’s over, you did it!” I’m happy with her for that moment, until I realize that voicemail was from last November, before the recurrence. I sink so deeply into the chair that I almost fold into myself.
The scar bursts open, and there are tears and my hand trembles and I realize I’ve been rocking but can’t recall when I started doing that; I wonder how many times this is going to happen before I finally crack.
I think about the last two years and how incredible they have been and how strong I’ve been and I think, “Can I maintain this?” I answer myself with a “Fuck yeah!” because that’s what a soldier does.
But there is that tremble again. I wonder if I’m just slapping Band-Aids on a serious wound that maybe needs more help than I ever thought possible. I begin to curse the Reiki session that cracked my soul wide open yesterday. Best to keep it all inside as to not get everything messy, right? But my soul aches for healing and reaches in every direction for the one thing, the one word, the one crystal that will make it all better—the place where it will all make sense. So I keep searching. Because it’s out there. I may die trying but when I find it, my wounds will close and I will finally be healed.
For those who say we haven’t won the war on cancer yet, I say I’m winning it every day.
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Assistant Editor: Lauren Savory/Editor: Bryonie Wise