So, here’s the thing: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.
We are a cancer family. For the past 14 years, we’ve been a cancer family. We’re very aware. People around us are very aware. Our experience is a reminder that they are also vulnerable. Nobody likes to think about it, including me and everyone else in our family, especially our very own survivor.
We don’t like being defined by cancer and our experiences with it. On the other hand, we — perhaps, just I — feel that it’s important for the rest of the world to understand what it’s like to be a cancer family. Why? Because most people think that after a few years of survival, you stop worrying about it and stop talking about it so much, and everything is back to hunky-dory. Except that’s not true.
We might be able to put it all away most of the time, but sometimes something will come up in conversation, or you start trying to remember when this, that or the other thing happened, and you find yourself telling time by cancer or saying things like, “So, you know about my son, right?” when you have something to say, but it won’t make sense if they don’t know. When they don’t know, then you need to explain that he is a cancer survivor and yadda yadda yadda. Blah blah blah. The conversation is now side-tracked. I get sick of hearing myself say it. Sometimes I just keep my mouth shut, and then I can pretend we’re just like everybody else.
If you know a cancer family, what you might not realize is that they are still living with this disease all of the time, even though it’s “gone.” It leaves an indelible mark, and you’re never absolutely sure that it’s really gone. You keep a watchful eye on every member of your family, watching to make sure it’s not hiding somewhere, lurking in the dark. Cancer and paranoia are best friends.
The fear creeps around the back hallways of our minds, and about every six months or so, the doctors take us by the hand and force us to actually go in there and look around. I’m grateful to say that not much goes on there these days — just some dusty memories that gaze back at us, remembering when we lived there. Sometimes, something will come up that doesn’t look quite right, and then we have to venture a little further down those hallways and spend some time checking for cracks and making sure that the weak spots are not any weaker. You can’t go in there without waking up the demons that sleep there. They come alive and taunt you into imagining the worst. They dance in front of you, grab at you, try to pull you in. I’ve gotten very good at walking away, but the door won’t close. You can still see the light and hear the noise. You just have to turn around and leave as quickly as you can and forget about it until the next time you’re forced to walk down there again.
So, yeah. It’s Childhood Cancer Awareness month. That one month out of the year when all of us over here impossibly try to tell all of you over there what it’s like and implore you to help us. If you know someone who has had a child with cancer, just remember that while they seem okay — and they mostly are — they don’t have the luxury of just forgetting about it 11 months of the year. Just because their child looks and acts healthy doesn’t mean that they don’t think about it every day in some way. Make a point to know when their child is going for a checkup, and stay open to listening when they need to talk about it. Everybody — no matter what they’re going through — needs to know they aren’t alone.