When I grow up...

I was thinking the other day about how long cancer has been a part of my life. My thoughts initially took me back to when I was living in Boston and an ex of mine had a roommate that had gone through cancer. Late summer of the first year I was in Phoenix I had gotten a call from him telling me that the cancer came back and his roommate had died. But that wasn't my first experience with cancer.

Cancer has been a part of my life since 1980 when I lost my dad to leukemia. He fought valiantly for four years until it finally took him. I never even knew until the final year he had it, and at that point it was a whirlwind. He was too young to have had his life cut short like that, just past his 35th birthday, and I was far too young to have not only lost my dad, but have to attempt to wrap my thoughts around cancer and death. 35 years old - younger than I am now - and there I was, this lost 9 year old kid, trying to make sense of it all.

Everyone has dreams in their childhood of what they are going to "grow up to be". At nine years old, it can range from a professional athlete to a teacher to a garbage collector to a veterinarian, and every other possbility in between. I remember talking to one kid that age a few years back, a tiny kid for his age at that, and he told me that he wanted to be an animal trainer at Sea World AND a professional football player. Me? I wanted to become an oncologist and save the world. Who the hell wants to be an oncologist at ten years old? As we know, things didn't quite turn out that way...

I spent a great deal of my childhood trying to make sense of it all, and to this day, I'm not sure I ever have. My dad, and cancer, became the underlying theme of many school projects when I got to choose the subject matter, as well as my college application essays. Even though it never made much sense to me, the whole experience did profoundly affect my life. Particularly in the past eight years, there have been so many times I wish I could have had a conversation with my dad and share our experiences - starting with the fact that is one experience I wish we wouldn't have had in common.

I don't know what happens in the next place after this one. I like to believe in the idea of a Heaven - of some place better than this when it is time to go. I think, many times, that concept makes it easier for the ones that are left behind. Also, I suppose the concept of the ability to get to a better place the next time around has a role in shaping how people conduct themselves in this world. Sometimes. Then again, it depends who you ask, when you ask them, and in what manner you ask. Some would tell me that my catch-and-release policy on bugs and my kind and compassionate heart would guarantee me a spot on the up escalator. Others would stand by the fact that being born into a particular faith renders me exempt from any glimpse of the pearly gates. Then again, those are the same ones that think that Ghandi is on his way downward, too. But, I digress. The intial thought that spurred this last tangent is that I like to believe that my dad is watching, and that he's smiling down at me - proud of who I have become and how I have handled all this. I like to believe that there are certain times that he has silently given me the strength, when I didn't even realize it, that enabled me to get through another day - even if it came in the form of me opening my eyes to reach out my hand for help or allow myself to let my husband catch me when I fell.

I suppose in some ways, cancer has always been a part of my life and apparently, it always will be. Yet, because of me, cancer is now and always will be a part of the lives of innumerable others, too. I hate that, and I'm sorry. Except if it can bring some comfort to someone else that is diagnosed and help give them the hope that if I got through this, twice even, they can get through it, too. Except if it helps someone take a look at their own life and not want to take things for granted. Except if sparks something in someone that causes them to develop a passion about something and want to make a difference. Ah, who am I kidding. I still hate the fact that cancer has touched so many people around me but since I can't change that fact, I do get to choose what I do with it.

I'm still not sure what I want to be "when I grow up" except alive. In hindsight, maybe I should have become an oncologist instead of spending so much time in his office...


    On May 2, 2008 at 4:14 PM Anonymous said...

    Hi Jen, I'm sitting here reading your comments for today with tears in my eyes. You are so very articulate and possess so much strength and caring. I know you will win this battle. I was just reflecting on how many people in our family have been touched by cancer. Your dad (my brother), Milo, both my parents, Bev, Susie,Edie,Florence,and Cecile. So many times when I'm alone I think of all of them, and all the good things they did. I have a feeling that you will be the one to win the battle. Keep on keepin' on!!
    We Love You!!

    Love, Steve and Bev

    On May 3, 2008 at 9:29 AM lisa said...

    When I grow up, I want to be YOU!!!

    You inspire me with every word you write.......so beautiful.......love you!

    I hate that you have cancer. But if you didn't, I'm pretty certain that I never would have been inspired to do the breast cancer walk three years ago with Lily.

    And I know I wouldn't have become the team captain for this walk on Saturday.

    Did I tell you that our whole Second Saturday art show that night is to benefit Komen? Yeah. We walk in the morning, and at night I'll be helping man the table and hit up people for more $$.

    So, I hate that you have cancer, but I don't hate what the effect of you having cancer has had on me as a person.

    You inspire great things.

    Only, it's not that you have cancer, but how you have conducted yourself and your life while having it.

    I think that's more of what I'm trying to say.

    Funny, I've known you this long and I didn't know that about your dad, I just know that he died when you were really young. : (

    Cancer sucks. Your fighting and winning gives me hope that someday people won't lose family and friends to cancer.

    When you grow up, you should be a rock star.