October 24th, 2018. It will not be a day I ever forget. That was the day I heard that word “cancer” in relation to my life. For the curious minds, it is a 5cm, probable renal cell carcinoma in my left kidney, and I am scheduled to have surgery next week to remove the kidney. So what do you do when you find out you have cancer? Well, if you are me, you start reading and researching. One of the things I came across is the idea that cancer is a gift. What?? This is not a gift I would have ever asked for, and certainly hearing the news that day did not feel like a gift, although it was an answer, and I am grateful that it looks like we caught it early. However, what I have discovered, there are gifts that the cancer has revealed and the biggest one, to quote Anne Lamott, is the lifesaving gift of your pit crew people!
One of my biggest worries being a single person was aging all alone, and what would happen if I got sick? Who would take care of me? Would I be a burden? Would people get tired of me? I have always been a strong, resourceful, independent person. I have never liked asking for help, feeling like I was imposing on people. I have a strong sense of it is all up to me because no one else is going to do it for you. And somewhere, deep in my childhood, I got this totally bent message that people only like you because of what you do for them: because you are good, smart and responsible. I was never pretty, popular, particularly athletic and therefore never felt like I was a “chosen” one. Funny how that skews your view of the world and your sense of your place in it.
In the last two weeks, I have discovered how many people I have in my life who care about me, are rooting for me, and will show up for me. I start with my family. My mom, at 81 years old and going strong, is still being my mom. She has taken me to the ER, to doctors appointments and sat in waiting rooms while I have had tests. She has worried and prayed and listened to me. She has been my rock. I tell her that I am supposed to be taking care of her at this stage of life, but there she is, still taking care of me. Then there are the friends who you know are friends in that you socialize and open up about your life, but in these moments, you discover they are really there for you. The ones who come and take you to lunch so you don’t go crazy in the midst of the waiting. The ones who send you the daily texts with prayers. The ones who bring you chocolate, and text you late at night to make sure you are ok. The ones who say we will be there at the hospital. And we will be there when you come home. You are not going through this alone. I am crying even as I write those words!! It has been amazing to discover, and I think I have not been near enough a good friend in return. But that is the beautiful thing about this. It is not about me earning or deserving their love. They just do it because they love me. Wow!
And the caregivers who have been unfailing kind as I have endured test after test. Let’s talk about being over an hour in a MRI machine, shall we? And then there are the prayers. Social media certainly has its downsides, but Facebook is a gift right now. To be able to post your darkest fears or your best good news, and to see all the people in your friend network who are praying with you and cheering you on. It helps you keep going. The prayers of the faith community, the warmth of a prayer shawl while you are waiting to get the news of your tests from your doctor, the wishes of love, positive thoughts and energy, they all matter. My mom asked me early on if I was comfortable with people knowing I had cancer. I said, “heck, yes!” This is no time to be strong and independent. I will take all the prayers and support I can get. It makes a difference and I want every resource at my disposal to go through this surgery well and be cancer-free on the other side! So here is a nugget worth remembering from the book “Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds”. When we are surrounded by loved ones or even our pets, the feeling of being loved releases a flood of potent hormones into our bloodstreams, which not only makes us feel better emotionally but also strengthens our immune system significantly. Receiving love from others when we are sick actually helps the body heal itself. Wow. That is researched data, not just wishful thinking.
I never asked for or wanted cancer. But I do have to say thank you. Because what it has taught me is that I have an incredible gift of people in my life and they are indeed my lifesaving pit crew. I will be relying on them and God to love me back to full health. And I will never underestimate again the value of sending that card, making that call, or just offering a prayer and a Facebook comment. You are all my cancer posse and I am so grateful!