Saturday, September 3, 2011

That Bastard Cancer

First, I want to explain that my mother discovered her thyroid cancer with mets when I was twenty. My father died of leukemia when I was 28. The shadow of cancer covered our lives since my mother's baby sister died of uterine cancer when she was 33. The big C was all you needed to hear for fear and dread and despair to grab your heart.
In the 70's all the movies had someone dying of cancer. It was vague sometimes what type it was. And who looked more beautiful in death than Ali McGraw, maybe she was secretly a vampire. It was some blood type of cancer in the script.
By my senior year of nursing school, so many of our patients battled cancer. We hypothesized the cause came from all the steel mills in our region. I can remember the sky turning black at noon on Broadway in Farrell, PA when the slag was dumped. The first time it woke me at night, I thought the Second Coming happened. I was told stories of how black the window sills were. Before all the scrubbers were imposed, those pollutants permeated the air, water and dirt.
Wonderful people, strong men reduced to skin and bones, Amish woman unknowing about breast cancer and begging me to teach her breast self exam, so her daughters could have knowledge to fight it early, dear mothers, all were victims. Education was the key. We taught the 7 warning signs. Chemo and radiation savaged the body. One day after class, in a group of students rounding the corner from the education wing to the dorms, one of them screamed, "I hate that Bastard!" Farther down the hall, teachers and the director of our school for some reason were on the floor. The director turned around, with a stern voice, asked, "What did you say?" Remember in the early 80's we didn't hear swearing everywhere, like we do now. Saying Bastard in a public place, even though it was our home, produced a stir. The senior nurse, emboldened with frustrated anger, shouted back, "Cancer, I hate Cancer!" Mrs. Jenkins quietly returned, "Well, we can't argue with that."
All that to say, I take cancer seriously. After many years, though, praise God, I know more survivors than losers. So in a way, I'm weary now of the trivialization of cancer awareness. What does it really mean to put on a ribbon, wear pink, write sexual innuendo on your facebook status? Yet to even question in this climate creates a distrust that somehow I don't care. Or we are making fun of cancer and that is not cool. No, I wonder about people following the latest trend like sheep is one more example of the dumbing down of our culture.
To even write this though is I'm sure perceived as somehow making light of cancer, not the insipid way of Raising Cancer Awareness.My favorite PSA against cancer was Yul Brenner's urging us not to smoke. That was powerful.
Many things do prevent cancer. Yet, how do you explain the 8 month old baby that died the day Mary Ellen was born? Why at 3 months did Michael develop kidney cancer? There are mysteries. Guilt kept me away from that mother. I felt Mary Ellen's newborn beauty would be a constant reminder of her loss. I'm sure I was wrong, but I avoided her. The church prayed all the time for that little guy, yet cancer consumed him.
Cancer is a bastard. We are making progress. We need to support research. I ran for Miss Hope of Lawrence County in my junior year of nursing school. I've sat in the American Cancer Society office stuffing envelopes. I've sold daffodils. I could do more. I could give more. But putting a sexual innuendo on my Face book status does nothing for me and I'm sorry if this offends you. That Bastard Cancer offends me.
We must remember though, someday, even he will have to bend his knee at the name of Jesus. That is the real day of cure.
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