To just cut straight to the chase: my little brother was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last week. It has been yet another bitter, vicious, cold hearted reminder to live at 110% while you can, because you never, ever know.
Although I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to be the one actually diagnosed with an illness like this, I can tell you first hand that it’s not easy to be the family member either. I’ve been having a bit of a hard time explaining what it is like to go through a cancer diagnosis in your immediate family. I know that everyone handles situations like this differently, but I don’t seem to be handling it very well at all. I can’t explain why I’ve had such a sharp tongue, why I’m so angry and why I don’t really want to see or talk to anybody except my own family (and Matt). I’ve mulled it over and over, and this is the best analogy I can come up with. Getting a cancer diagnosis in your immediate family (even when it isn’t you personally) goes something like this:
It’s one of those absolutely “throw your head back and drink in the sunlight” kind of days; maybe late May or early June. You’re walking down the sidewalk, there’s cheerful music coming out of the storefronts that you pass by and you walk past one of those old ice cream trucks that you used to get so excited about as a kid. You smile. The sidewalk is pleasantly crowded with people, and everyone is so pleased to be outside on a day like today. There isn’t a cloud in the sky; the sun is beautiful and warm on your bare arms and you don’t have a place to be in the world.
You blink and suddenly there’s a short, stubby little man that has appeared out of absolutely nowhere. Was he there 30 seconds ago? He’s not more than 4 feet tall. He is filthy from head to toe, his hair is long and greasy and stringy, his face is caked with dirt and blood and years of filth and grime. His finger nails are long and haggard and they too are caked in dirt and blood. It looks like he’s been in a major, major fight. His clothes are soaked in grease, more blood, more dirt, ripped at the shoulders, at the knees. The man grins at you, and he’s only got 4 crooked teeth in his entire mouth. You start to recognize him. You’ve heard about him, in books and on the internet. The man’s name is Cancer, and he’s grinning up right at you with that disgusting, revolting smile.
Everything starts happening at hyper speed. You go to put your hands up to defend yourself. You know from years of warnings and education that the man named Cancer is there for a fight and for some reason, for some God unknown reason, today he has picked you. Before you can even get your hands up, Cancer has landed his first punch. Its right to the mouth and it’s so hard that you crumble to your knees; you can feel warm blood gushing from your mouth and down your chin. You see, Cancer has the ultimate advantage in the fights that he picks. The element of surprise.
You’re on the sidewalk, gasping for air. You can hear the repulsive man giggling. You try to stand up, and he kicks you as hard as he can, right to the stomach. You try to breathe, but all that comes out is a tiny squeak. You hate yourself for being so weak, for letting him get the best of you. Out of options, you curl up into as small a ball as you can make yourself. You wonder numbly when someone on the crowded sidewalk is going to step in and help you. Can’t they see what this repulsive little slug is doing to you? Another kick, this time straight to your head. Through blurred vision, you see him wipe his dirt and blood soaked knuckles on his ragged shirt. The pieces start to click, even in your completely haggard state of mind. You see your own blood blend with the millions of other people’s on that tattered shirt. How many others have suffered the way you are suffering right now?
Cancer, satisfied that you are down for the count, turns over his shoulder and spits on you before he starts off down the sidewalk. It is the ultimate insult. You are left curled up, bleeding, gasping for air on the very sidewalk where you had just been enjoying the beautiful day not more than 5 minutes earlier. You can hear the sounds of life going on around you, but you aren’t part of that life anymore. You don’t know it, but everything that has just happened to you is completely and totally invisible to everyone on that sidewalk. Nobody is coming to help you up, to wipe the blood off your chin, hand you a glass of water and say “you’re going to be okay”.
When you finally do pick yourself up and get yourself to safety, your friends and family have all somehow heard about what happened. “It’s going to be okay”, they say, “Let me know what I can do to help”. You feel completely and totally disconnected from all of this, because you needed your friends and family when you were back on that sidewalk, curled up in a ball. You needed someone to body tackle Cancer for you, throw him down on the sidewalk and start bashing his skull against the concrete. Sometimes you even get angry that your friends and family weren’t there to do that for you. But the rational part of your brain knows that they couldn’t have been. Nobody could have been there, or stopped what happened back on that sidewalk. I think the toughest part is that even though you so desperately want to just hide away forever, you eventually have to face walking on that very same stretch of sidewalk where Cancer beat you up every single day. Because that “sidewalk” is your life. And it’s the only one you’ve got.
Anyways. I have no intentions of turning this blog into a “poor us”, Cancer blog (it’s much more entertaining to read about how pitifully under-trained for races I am anyways!!). The nice thing is that we get a second shot at that little bastard named Cancer, and together, we plan on kicking his ass from here into the next millennium. When all is said and done, maybe we will get the chance to body tackle him, throw him down on the sidewalk and bash his skull into the concrete just like I wanted to.
I didn’t log on to write this post. I logged on to write a post about how excited I am to be flying out to the Boston Marathon on Friday evening with Matt and his family (which I still am by the way!!!!!!). Guess this all just really needed to come out, and this was the medium that made the most sense to me. Sorry if you came to my blog hoping for an uplifting, light hearted read today. I promise to have some VERY uplifting, light hearted and hopefully inspirational stories for you after the race this weekend. In the meantime – I’m hoping to finish off Matt’s Road to Boston series before Friday night….so I better get cracking!!
Thanks for listening. Or reading. Or whatever.