Cancer is always a devastating diagnosis; a genetic makeup showing a propensity for the BRCA 1 defect brings an outlook even more overwhelming. Ten years ago my cancer diagnosis featured this arguably most dreaded form. BRCA 1, triple negative breast cancer grows and spreads quickly, all the while being statistically high in recurrence. Seeing my oncologist shake his head when perusing my chart unmistakably brings home the reality of mortality at each visit.
My diagnosis wasn’t the first for a forty-something woman on my maternal side, but my survival for a full decade is a first. At least three generations before me – mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother – shared this gene. They died at 58, 42, and 40-something – one of them just two weeks after diagnosis, while my mother survived for almost five years. Our 28 year old daughter didn’t escape either, even though she was 20 weeks pregnant at the time of her diagnosis.
As they say, life marches on. This October marks my tenth cancer-versary, a term coined by those counted among the unwilling souls who are in the Cancer Club. Had my younger sister not berated me for my unwillingness to resume an annual mammogram, my outcome would most likely have been as poor as those who came before me. Although not my first checkup, it was the first in a few years. Fear of what seemed like the inevitable kept me from scheduling.
All of the prerequisite trials, pain, and fears are not the story though. Along the way a fuller faith, less dependence on this world, and unreserved love from my husband have been found. That our daughter was also subject to the same experiences – chemo, surgeries, the inevitable testing, and a guarded hope for long life – has brought us even closer than we were before. And the one shining jewel of our shared experience is faith. Until you’ve stared death in the face and acknowledged the reality of the mortality of the human body, you aren’t as keenly aware of the little things that wind up being the big things in your life.
Cancer, Family and Others
Until you’ve been humbled by being bald, nauseas, and physically weak you can’t fully experience the unconditional love of family. A husband, and daughter, who are willing to give assistance with the most personal of hygiene aspects of the human condition speak louder than mere words ever could. Family members who do mundane household chores, send inspirational books, and become chauffeur to chemo – these are the champions of which you might never have been aware. It’s easy to say, “I love you”, and heartwarming to hear. Yet the sacrifice of time and the effort family during the endless months of living the life of an invalid are like glittering jewels in memory.
Those outside the family bring their own gifts of love during the trials of cancer. Recovery from a sixteen hour surgery is not for the faint of heart. Neither is care for the patient. Yet the countless doctors and nurses helped make this past decade of my life possible. M D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX will be forever held in high regard. Modern medicine is, indeed, a miracle and God’s fingerprints can be seen in the great strides that have been gained. It’s difficult not to wonder if my mother would have survived had she had the same care.
Cancer Brings Faith and Hope
A priest I barely knew played an important role as well. The fear that prevented me from getting an annual mammogram for all those years, had me convinced that I had been handed a sure death sentence. Convinced of my certain demise, treatment seemed fruitless. With the sureness of his faith, Father Baker swiftly convinced me to abandon hopelessness and to live up to my responsibility to family. That day, in the Presence of Jesus in the monstrance, my faith was awakened. No longer satisfied to wring my hands in despair, the trip home found a more resolute and enlightened me.
Plodding along, first with recovery from lengthy surgeries and then six months of chemotherapy, hope was restored. Life began to take on a new sweetness. Love was more pure. Things formerly taken for granted became miraculous. The love of family was made more complete and felt more deeply. This new beginning was the culmination of a cycle that began with hopelessness and ended in unfettered hope. Death no longer felt like a thing to fear. It became a friend. For if life was lived faithfully, walking in step with God, Eternal Life was something to which one should look forward. As odd as it may sound, the thought of death can at times bring a lift of joyful anticipation to the heart. In human weakness, however, suffering is still a dreaded foe.
Human Capital: Don’t Kill So I Can Live
As much as we seek to live when we are faced with an uncertain future. As much as we will do everything possible to survive and flourish, we must always keep in mind that no promised treatment is worth the life of another. Modern science can seem truly miraculous at times, yet even as they seek to lengthen and improve life, some aspects of research are morally bankrupt. We need look no further than the recent exposure of Planned Parenthood. As if killing unborn children isn’t heinous enough, it’s been proven that their organs are being harvested and sold for profit. Embryonic stem cell research, though unproven, continues to be used in scientific experiments for cancer cures. Even if these studies produced hope for cancer and other deadly diseases, their use would be morally objectionable. No one should die so that others can live.
In this month of October, the pink month, a moral duty presents itself. Aware that Susan G Komen and the American Cancer Society cooperate with Planned Parenthood, we are bound to share their unholy alliances with those around us. Both of these organizations also cooperate with embryonic stem cell research. The color pink has become associated with groups that prey on unborn victims while portraying themselves champions for cancer victims. Don’t fall for the sentimentality that partners with evil. Think Before You Pink.
Ethical Cancer Support
Cancer victims need our support. While we make ourselves aware of emotional traps set by unethical organizations our moral duty begs that we inform others. Let them know of morally sound ways to help those suffering from cancer. Drive, clean, cook, visit, and console. Show love and offer prayer. Then make those around you aware of groups such as Polycarp Research Institute, Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, and National Breast Cancer Foundation® who do research in tangible, moral ways. Donate to an individual patient or to these groups.
Caring for the sick is a Corporal Work of Mercy. Making sure this is done in a virtuous way is the responsibility of each individual. This October, let’s make it a point to show our love of one another by extending the love of Christ to everyone – the cancer victims and the voiceless unborn.
Photography: See our Photographers page.