Brad Paisley says you’re not supposed to say the word “cancer” in a song. Hermione Granger says fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself. My grandmother wouldn’t talk about you, she faced you three times, battling you twice herself. My friend’s mom incorporated you into her battle cry. You’re the first thing you rule out and the last thing you double-check for. You’re the ultimate way to put your priorities in order fast and the worst way to test out your health insurance. You’re the most definite way to pick your new favorite color.
Pink. Grey. Teal. White. Peach. Lavender.
Breast. Brain. Ovarian. Lung. Uterine…Cancer.
Probably the only word in the world that has the effect that you do – it’s like a mortar explosion or a grenade detonating at your feet. You get thrown through the air, and land on your back, gasping for air. You lay there, listening for those around you, needing to hear that life-pulse, till the dust begins to settle.
Cancer. You’re a dirty word. The second time you are spoken, you are broken and raw. You are fear drawn from the air, tangible in images and matter. No matter how often you are said, you do not deflate. No – you ring like gunshot in a valley, echoing on in the silence. You are a single angry, forsaken scream resounding in an empty canyon. You are heavy ringing footsteps, nail-shod boots on marble. Calculated and exact, snapping at the corners, sounding like the crack of lightning in a tree. You are glass hitting the floor, loud and aching and startling, then you are sliding and scratching, shards spinning across the floor. You are the broken pieces embedded in the carpet, clawing at bare feet before receding again.
You are defiant hope. The hidden sparks beneath the coals, waiting for the stillness to stop. A hand thrust deep down would burn unexpectedly. The lesson would be learned. Fear only goes so deep until it meets the inevitability of the human spirit.
You are a knot in a rope. Sliding down, it is a harsh jerk when you least expect it. The stumbling knot on the highwire, the one that makes you trip and fall 25 feet. But also the knots in the net below, catching you when you fall, keeping you from the impact of the cold, hard ground. It cradles you, swinging gently as you catch your breath and gather the strength to roll off and get to your feet. It’s there to catch you if you stumble because your head is still spinning.
You’re the thing that brings people to their knees, but you give them the defiance to get back up. You make them ask why, and then give it up to God. Your greatest lesson is that you can’t be mad at something you can’t change. There’s no point – you just have to pick up the pieces, patch them together the best you can, and move on. You bring people with you.
You are the ultimate test in relationships. You teach people who means the most to them, who will be there through it all. You are hand-holding, tissues and watery smiles. You are words choked with emotion. You are ‘drop everything and go.’
You are a bringer of compassion. You are a teacher. A cruel one. You are incomprehensible, and painfully clear. You are a driving force that creates other forces – forces of love and charity, hope and prayer.
Above all, you teach us what is most important in this world.
There, I said it.