Twenty years ago today I was on the way to my high school's homecoming game for the first (and what would be the only) time since graduating. That day, two months into my freshmen year in college, just one month past my 18th birthday, is a day I will not likely forget. Not for the excitement of the game nor the reunion with friends, but because of an unscheduled meeting I had just come from with a man I'd met only once before in my life, on the day that I was born. That man, who wore a bow tie to work every day and, if still alive would be well over 100 years old, had just told me that I almost certainly had cancer. A malignant tumor growing on my right ovary. I didn't hear anything he said after the word 'malignant', just the swishing of the automatic sliding doors in the hospital lobby, where he told us to meet him that night. The woman sitting across from us was knitting. I wondered what brought her there that night. Or if she had any idea what she had just witnessed. Until that day I had never known anyone who had survived cancer.
Twenty years. At year one I remember wondering
if life would ever feel happy again, because rebuilding a life after
cancer was emotionally harder for me than the treatment itself had been.
By far. By year two I realized the answer was 'yes'. At year three I
remember thinking that maybe one of these years I would be able to make
it through 'the day' without remembering its significance. By year five
I was officially cancer free, and somewhere between years six and nine
'the day' did pass without me realizing it. Year ten brought a
celebratory trip with my sister. Then, ten more years passed by with the blink of an eye, and unfortunately brought with them more cancer, this time
recurrent skin cancer.
I've often thought over the
years that I'm the luckiest unlucky person in the world. I've survived
two different cancers five different times. Don't get me wrong, cancer
sucks in a big, fat, hairy (or hairless!) way. But at the same time,
having cancer gave me a gift, one that is hard to explain unless you've
been given it. It changed the course of my life for sure. I've
travelled to places I thought only dreamers would go to. It taught me
to be one of those dreamers. I've met amazing friends I would never have
met otherwise. Friends with whom I learned the joy of laughter in
unexpected places. And I learned to love life in a way I probably would
have never known.
So I thank you, cancer,
for the way you changed my life, I forgive you for all you took away
from it, and I sincerely hope, pray even, that we will never, ever meet