Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cancer, cancer everywhere

We all know someone who has cancer, had cancer, beat cancer, or died of cancer.  “Survivor” no longer refers to an 80’s hair band – it’s a word for anyone who has received the diagnosis and come out the other side alive.
These days, cancer is more than a disease: it’s an industry. Millions of people in the U.S. send money to Susan Komen and run in marathons supporting “the cure.” We devour news articles telling us how to avoid the scourge, and run to the store to stock up on vitamins and super-foods that may fight those evil, interloping cells.
A decade ago, women everywhere watched Kim Cattrall’s Samantha don a hot pink wig on Sex and the City, and applauded as she plucked off her wig and shared her chemo-induced baldness with a ballroom full of VIPs.
Lance Armstrong taught us to “Live Strong.”  Kris Carr brought us “Crazy Sexy Cancer.”
My own family history is rife with cancer battles lost and won.  “Amma” Stanley, my maternal grandmother and a life-long chain smoker, had breast cancer but died with cancer cells riddling every part of her body, from bone to brain.  Grandma McDaniel died within a week of being diagnosed with adult-onset leukemia.  My mother battled breast cancer seven years ago and is, today, one of the aforementioned survivors  -- and a healthy and vital one, at that.
Yes, cancer is everywhere.  It’s enough to make any woman “of a certain age” a little antsy.
While 40 is the magic number for most, my sister and I have been getting annual mammograms for years now, far sooner than most women bother.  We’ve half-joked that it’s only a matter of time, given our lousy genes.
So when my sister called last week with news that her mammogram had returned with abnormalities, I can’t say that I was entirely surprised.
Horrified, yes.  Surprised, no.
Since she’s a seven-hour drive away, we exchanged comforting platitudes by phone and text.  From me, “I’m sure it’s nothing – just a shadow on the x-ray,”and, “Everything will be just fine.”  From her, “There’s no point in worrying about it. I’m not worried.”
We left the rest unsaid.
We’re both Type A personalities, so when we’re scared, we tend to do two things: 1) Ignore whatever is frightening us; and 2) Get mad.
It’s an involuntary reaction.  Fearfulness acknowledges something frightening, whereas anger implies that you can forcefully beat the scary thing into dust.  For better or worse, our “fight or flight” response always defaults to beating the tar out of whatever was foolish enough to alarm us in the first place.
So we told each other sweet-sounding lies and ignored what was really rattling around in both our brains:  Is this it? The rise of those awful genes?
So today, I’m taking my fear out on this keyboard, banging and clacking instead of tip-tapping as usual.  Today, there is anger, and fear, and worry.
And tomorrow, we will know.


Update, April 16:  Sister is GOOD!  She lost 30 pounds last year, which resulted in her recent films veering wildly from her baseline -- her normal tissue is smaller and more compressed, which made it look like there were masses.  This is something to keep in mind if you're ever in a similar spot!

1 comment:

  1. I hope that the news is good! Will pray for you and yours!