Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Open Letter to Cancer

Dear Cancer:

You suck.

I want you to know how much I hate you. I know that this won't exactly get you on board at the get-go, but I've got some things to say to you, and you're going to listen.

Cancer, I'm young, but already I can name dozens of people whom I know who have fought you courageously. You make me fire-spitting angry at your arbitrary choices of victims, and your impossibility of prevention. This Summer, I looked you in the face for the first time, and I saw the depths of evil in your eyes. There is no good that comes from you, and I watched as you ate my friend alive.

When I met Fred, he was walking with Death as his shadow. He wore his glasses askew on his slender face, since your tumorous figure pushed on his ear. Fred was a good man. A kind man. A funny man. A brave man. He was a man of faith, despite all odds. He was a newscaster, and you got him right where it hurt the most: his face. You swallowed up his eye, and then you went for his brain. We watched as the chemotherapy designed to save his life weakened him so much that the rest of his body shut down.

You are clever, indeed, Cancer. In the end, you couldn't be blamed for his death. You shoved responsibility off on his failing liver and you shrank into subtlety in your dark corner. When I saw Fred for the last time, you had taken all of his weight away, and stripped him down to his bones. His youthful handsomeness had given way to your vengeance and he looked like a man 30 years older than his age. His mouth was agape. His heart had stopped. Your tumor had shrank. We cursed your name, and blessed the Lord who took him away from this suffering you caused and gave him new life. We anointed his head with oil, and his cup overflowed with our tears and the water that will never run dry. We bade farewell to his broken body, and burned your remains along with his.

Monday, I went with a friend to hear the news that you had returned in his pancreas. This is not surprising - when you want to make a point and do it quickly, you know right where to put yourself. He beat you once. A few months ago, he was free of you. A walking miracle.

You are clever, indeed, Cancer.

You returned just as his strength was rising, his appetite increasing, his independence mounting. He drove himself to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. He ate with friends, and visited with neighbors. His caretakers exhaled. Then, you came back. You bullied his liver into some kind of melt-down, and the rising ammonia levels caused him confusion and forgetfulness. You sucked away his appetite as you took the place of empty space in his abdomen. His navel protrudes. His body is withering. You hide, undetected, in his pancreas, knowing that he's too weak for a CAT scan, too vulnerable for a biopsy, too fragile for chemotherapy, unable to have radiation. His head bows in fatigue and hopelessness. You applaud yourself for taking one of the strong ones - one whom you had allowed to believe had defeated you for good.

He seeks only palliative care today. His only medications are those that bring him comfort. He will go to Hospice care soon, and we will wait and watch and comfort him as he screams at God for letting this happen to him.

But I know it's not God. It's you, Cancer.

As we waited at the cancer specialist yesterday, other patients milled around. Your victims. Breast cancer. Lung cancer. A melanoma or two, just for kicks. Then in walked a young mother and her daughter, not even two years old yet. Which one of them is it, Cancer? Which one are you trying to steal? Who's heart will you break forever, and why the hell do you think you can do this to them?

To us?

I'm tired of it. I've watched friends fight you and win, but lose all of their weight and hair and appetite and spirit in the process. They've regained all of those things, but they are forever marred by the scars you've put upon their bodies and souls. You make their family mistrustful. "Sure - it's gone now... but when will it come back?" You make their friends awkward, embarrassed and unequipped to stare you in the eye. Where there was once life, now you and Death stand lurking in the shadows.

What gives you the right?

I need you to know that I'm aware of your power. I know that any of my family members - husband, children, parents - could fall victim to you. I can't stop it. I can't predict it. I can't do anything but wait and see, and in the meantime, I'll get the call from someone saying that you've stopped there for a visit. I'm ready for that call, Cancer. Because I know something you don't know.

You may bring Death, but Death has already died. Where you sow darkness, light will shine. You do not have the final answer on these bodies or spirits. No matter how fast or rampant or sneakily you come, you do not define the lives that were led by your victims. You are merely a disease. A horrible, evil disease. But you do not have claim on these people, who are loved and nursed by others. Life has claimed them long before you have. So, you can pretend to show mercy, but you do not know what mercy is. You can pretend to be valiant, but there is nothing valiant in your character. Try as you might to destroy life, you will fail, because our spirits were claimed by One who brought light and life eternal. You are the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but we will fear no evil, for God is with us.

Thanks be to God.

Sincerely,

Mandy
In honor and memory of Fred, Bob, Louise, Linda, Dot, Susan, Karen, Linda, Darrell...

If you would like to sign this open letter, I invite you to do in the comments section.
Those you name will be remembered and honored in their dignity and struggle.

14 comments:

Karen B Cooper said...

And Stephanie. Thank you for writing this. I was moved to tears, because it so powerfully and eloquently said what anyone whose life or loved ones have been affected by cancer feels. Stephanie was the strongest, most full of life person I've ever met. Thank you for writing this.

Lauren said...

and Rosie, Debbie, and Connie.

Jasmine said...

and Katherine, Papa Bailey, Celeste, and Marlee. I could go on and on with this list...

Thank you for this today. My tears needed these words to speak for them.

NotH20 said...

Well said Mandy. I would like to add Mary Musciano, Terenia Davis and Brenda Woods. All of these women were attacked by cancer in some form or another and all of these women were powerful and struggled with this "beast" for far too long.

Thanks for helping us put into words what is sometimes difficult.

Mia Musciano-Howard

Reuben "Rudy" Clemons said...

and we thank you as well for those we have lost, Rudy & Bobby.

Loving Landon said...

Lori Langford, sophia langford, diane stephens,

Silver Tounged Devil said...

Thank you for writing this.

I want to add the names of Donna Chance, Virda Crenshaw and Hanna McCarty.

Anjie said...

And Ray. And Emily.

Christie said...

and Grandmommy, Uncle Tom, and Pop.

ireverant said...

well done, Mandy.

Sharmaine said...

...and Lizzie Mae Johnson ("Me-Mommy") and Freddie.

Awesome, Mandy!

Gigi said...

and my Sweet Hubby, Steve...

Thank you for this post.

LaDiscoABesoindeVous said...

its been months since you wrote this, but i agree wholeheartedly. thank you so much for your words. it is a serial murderer without a conscience and i hate, hate hate, how it has made us feel. i freely sign your letter and will share it with my friends and family. thank you for penning this. it means more than you will ever know.

all my best,

phoebe salassi

Tiffany Townsend Fessler said...

And my dad, Bob Townsend, and my paternal grandfather, Kenneth Townsend. And for mom who's fighting even as I write... Thanks Mandy. I know the fight was won long ago, and only hope we can focus on knowing that love wins.