The Time Cancer Ruined My Life (Again)
KAT: It’s back.
A moment of silence. My heart slowly starts to beat again, as if hesitant to resume its normal function. My head feels like it’s swimming as my eyes become lights over a stage, narrowing to one spot: cancer. Time wasn’t an object anymore.
ME: I can be over in 10 if you need me.
The only thing I knew how to do was be present for her. Surely I understood what was happening more than most.
KAT: Ok. Please hurry.
My heart splintered as the next text drove into it like a nail. I like to tell myself that I knew her mindset because I had been the one to receive that dreadful news before.
Days later, I tried to let Kat know that I did understand, “I know it sucks. It hurts, I understand.”
What I didn’t expect her to whisper was, “No, you don’t.”
It took every ounce of will I had in me not to respond. To not ask her: Do you think I don’t understand the pain? The anxiousness of the long wait to see scans? To not yell: You know my mom had cancer, my grandmother, and my aunt. Her cancer came back. I’m still anxiously waiting for scans too. I’m always waiting, hoping, and praying that nobody’s cancer comes back. To not argue: I do know what it means to wait and not know. The words begged me to say them, but I restrained myself, knowing anything I wanted to say would only cause more harm.
So I choose not to, and we both continue with our lives. Regardless of the hate that suffocated me in that moment, I would still repeat that same day over and over and over again.
I would still walk into her quiet house; intimidated, but knowing that I was where I needed to be. Walking in, I go through the formalities; hug her mom and dad, say hello to my youth pastor and small group leader as the tears run their course down my cheek. Muttering the awkward, “It is good to see you” when in reality I’d rather not see them because his cancer is back. I find her. I walk as she lays sideways in bed and I sit next to her in silence as she doesn’t acknowledge my presence. We laugh when we hear, “GOTCHA” and thuds as bodies hit the ground and remember; of course, he would have his Nerf guns out hours after the announcement that his cancer has returned. Then we would quiet down as we remember the hell we knew waited for us the next few months.
I spent the next few hours lingering and then the following days, months, and years waiting with my friend for her brother’s scans until the day he died.
Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you how I dealt with what to say in those moments. To this day, I still wonder, what do you say to people who have been crushed so many times by disease? All I know is that there is never truly a right thing to say. There are only the wrong things to say, and I always had to hope that I could avoid those hurtful words. All I could do is be there for my friend when she struggles through the impact of cancer on her family.