Fuck cancer. Seriously. If there really is a cure being withheld for the sake of revenue, I hope that team of doctors or scientists or evil geniuses has at least twenty-seven years of suffering in their own personal hellhole. September marks four years since a complete stranger from literally the other side of the world harvested some bone marrow from his lower back/upper butt area and let my dad put it in his own body so he wouldn’t die. Granted, that’s probably not the most medically accurate explanation of a bone marrow transplant, but that’s basically how it went down.
From my experience of being a cancer patient’s kid, here are a few observations I’ve made:
1. Your mom stops being your mom.
She seriously quit her job, packed her bags, and returned home for less than an entire day the whole summer that my dad was in the hospital. Not that my brother, sister, or I could blame her. If that’s not true love, I’m not sure what it.
One week, I still had to check in with her if I was going to be a few minutes later than my curfew. The next week, I was the woman of the house, making sure my siblings and I got to places on time, had clean clothes, and lived in a generally sanitary environment.
2. Neighbors and relatives shower you with food.
Residing in small town America has some serious drawbacks. Being from a German community is not one of them. Staying true to our heritage, Germans speak one love language (besides beer). Food. For the average person, this is a blessing, not a curse. However, if you’re a stress eater like me, you understand my pain. When anything even mildly traumatic happens in my life, I’m guaranteed to gain at least ten pounds.
Casseroles, cookies, and pie. Oh my. You name it; we had it. It was full-on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs up in our kitchen. At one point, I remember calling my mom, crying, “Make them stop! There’s food everywhere, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m so sad, and I can’t stop eating pie.” As you can imagine, her amount of sympathy was miniscule.
3. Suddenly, EVERYONE has cancer.
Your co-worker’s nephew’s girlfriend. Your aunt’s dentist’s cousin. Your yoga teacher’s dog. I would be willing to bet that there isn’t a single person in this world that doesn’t somehow have a tie to cancer. Every experience is different, as is every treatment process and every outcome. While sharing stories is comforting and necessary, I also think that there is something to be said for withholding comparisons. Give a hug, send a sympathy card, or bring over a freakin’ pie, if you feel the need. However, if you did not study oncology and graduate from medical school, please don’t share your diagnosis or suggested treatment options. And for the love of God, don’t tell me that my dad is going to die. (Yes, that really happened.)
4. “You’re so strong.”
This three word phrases drives my mother crazy to this day. It’s one that she hears frequently still, because what no one tells you about cancer is that it isn’t just treated and forgotten. Well, sometimes it is, but in Dad’s case, not so much. Due to lots of cancer-related complications, my dad will never hold a job, get dressed alone, or use the restroom without help ever again. It sucks. He was dealt a shitty hand, and now both of my parents have to deal with the consequences daily. These days, my dear mother takes care of Dad full time, while also holding a full time job. Countless people have said to her, “You’re so strong. I don’t think I would be able to do it.” Luckily for the rest of the world, she is a polite and kind of quiet individual who doesn’t speak her mind too often or tell people off. Really though, what other choice does she have? Watch him struggle to pull up his pants? Let him die? Yeah…I didn’t think so.
5. Life goes on.
I am a selfish creature. So are you. Our minds are fixated on one focal point: Our own path. As with any event, people eventually become distracted and uninterested. It doesn’t always happen on purpose, but it does happen regardless. Our daily routines of careers and socializing and hobbies and daydreaming take over. Neighbors stop dropping off pies, and distant relatives stop sending cards. Co-workers will ask for status reports occasionally, but they have their own families to tend to at home as well.
You get the phone call saying that it hasn’t been a good day in Chemoland, and as a result, your day is ruined too. But, the need for toilet paper and laundry detergent waits for no man, so you head for Walmart, where the rest of the herd is ambling around, filling their carts with snack cakes and bags of chips. When you get to the checkout line, your Tide won’t ring up, and the worker, who is already daydreaming about post-work plans in 4 hours, asks you to go to the complete other side of the store to grab a new bottle. Oh, and hurry because there is inevitably a long line waiting due to the lack of open checkouts. That’s it. The final straw. The one that broke the camel’s back. In your head, you’re screaming, “FUCK YOU AND YOUR OVERPRICED LAUNDRY DETERGENT. MY LIFE IS IN SHAMBLES. MY PANTS DON’T FIT BECAUSE I’VE EATEN SO MUCH DAMN PIE. LET ME BE A KID.” Instead, you rush back to the household products aisle with tears streaming down your face, pay for your stupid detergent, and then avoid laundry for three days as a mini act of rebellion and avoidance.
…And if you really want to freak people out, just tell them that you don’t even have the same DNA as your biological father anymore because he has regenerated as a middle-aged European man. Gets ‘em every time.