It’s about that word, you know the one. We hear it all the time. Foods to fight cancer. Wear sunscreen to prevent cancer. New advances in cancer research. We read about it in the headlines. We buy pink things in October, maybe because we know someone who fought breast cancer, or maybe just because it makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves.
The word changes though. It morphs–from something we see across headlines, in bold print on books, a word we hear on the news–when it attaches itself to someone we love.
I love my aunt. She is everything kind and patient about our family. When we shift towards being too loud, too abrasive, too argumentative, she is the center–always pulling us back. I wish you could all meet her because she is the type of person everyone likes. She isn’t overly sweet (who likes those types of people?). She’s just herself–down to earth and real. There are very few people (in fact, I can’t think of anyone) she can’t get along with or make laugh. She is good.
These are things I have always known about her. Since I moved across the county on my own and started working in the corporate world, I learned more. I got to know her as a woman. I go to her for advice about work and life because I respect her, yes, but because we are different. She is the center.
Let me be clear. This is not a eulogy. Laura (that is her name) is very much alive and very much still the center. Her name, Laura, comes from the laurel tree (amazing what the internet teaches us) and is a symbol of both honor and victory. This, I think, is fitting.
I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share this on the blog. I’m all about the honesty here, but I fear the overshare. Besides, this is not my story. But Auntie Laura gave me her blessing and so I am trying to say the right things, to do right by her, the center. And yes, because parts of her story will very much, has very much, affected the way my story continues to be written.
It’s in her spine. It started as breast cancer which she fought and beat many years ago and now it is in her spine. Someone saw something on an x-ray and within days she was in surgery where doctors would place two steel rods to reinforce her spine for two reasons. First, so that her spine would not collapse (and it was a miracle it hadn’t already). Secondly, so she could undergo radiation which weakens the bones in and of itself.
The x-ray and the surgery happened within days of one another. Imagine yourself in her position, already beaten a disease, a routine x-ray that leads you down the rabbit hole to, yes, here is that word: cancer.
It has different connotation now, doesn’t it?She finished radiation like a champion. I try to make her laugh. I consider that my role. I bought her a necklace that says F cancer and I mean it. When my nonna (her mother) heard what I bought Auntie Laura, she reprimanded me for about two seconds before I said: “If ever there is a time to use that word, it’s about cancer.” And then my nonna said: “You know what, you’re right. F cancer!” (I bought her a keychain with the same phrase. My aunt and I knew she wanted something but a necklace would be too daring. Who knows though? My nonna is a daring woman.)
The necklace is pretty, in a rose gold color. My aunt loves it. I told her that if anyone ever dares to say anything to her that she should reply: “I’m really sorry that my necklace offends you but cancer offends me.”
Cancer does offend me. It offends us. F cancer. Don’t mess with us.
Recently, Laura met with doctors over scans. There are no new spots but the tumor remains in the bone. This was the best news Laura (we…we are a we family) could have gotten. And still, she is a woman living, breathing, walking, talking, working, laughing, crying, facetiming (me), with cancer.
And F those two last words.
I hate cancer. I hate it so much.
I am proud of my aunt. I am so proud of her.
She is real. She is here.
My dad went with his sister and mom to hear the results of the scans (we are a we family). First though, he spent the morning playing with my little sister, who thought that Dad must have the day off. When he started to get ready, she was a bit bummed. Then he explained he was going to the doctor with Auntie Laura. Ava doesn’t know what is going on but that explanation appeased her.
My stepmom did not mention the doctors again to Ava throughout the day. But that night, Ava, Dad, and Karen read from their preschool advent book and lit the advent candle. And then Dad asked: “Who wants to pray?”
My little sister spoke up. “Ava.”
Then she said. “Dear Heavenwee Fader. Dear Ward. Thank you that Daddy went to the doctor with Auntie Waura. Amen.”
She is three. While my role has been the sarcastic jokester, her (unknown role) has been one of unbelievable cuteness and silliness. It is impossible to be with her and not to laugh. She made our family vacation. Meanwhile, I’ve watched my brother grow up, to be the strongest thing in the hurricane. He drove my aunt to her appointments, stayed with her. He kept my aunt and my nonna positive when the negatives threatened to overwhelm. We are a we family. And we are we siblings. That is a comforting thing to know, deep down, in the farthest parts of me.
I’m in California, across the country. I do what I can. It never seems like enough. Not because anyone makes me feel that way but because she is a woman living, breathing, walking, talking, working, laughing, crying, facetiming (me), with cancer.
And because we are a we family.
Blog posts should end with a hook, with a bow. But there are none in this case.
She is a woman living with cancer.
I love her.