Words -March 1986

The scariest word in the English language? Cancer. The most terrifying sentence in the English language? “You have cancer.”
The breath is knocked out of your lungs and your heart skips a beat, then settles back into a rythym that is forever changed. You are now a cancer victim. You pray you will be a cancer survivor. A vicious predator has broken into your body, your life and the lives of all you love.
The tears spring out of your eyes. You cry for the person you were and for the person you thought had more years than you could count. You cry from fear, from anger and from the awful sense of your own mortality.
There will be phone calls to loved ones breaking the news. You will be the strong one, mimicking the words of the doctor like a faithful dummy of a prophetic ventriloquist: “We caught it early. It’s the kind of cancer you want if you have to have cancer. There will likely be no chemo or radiation after surgery. We’ll monitor you every three months or six months or year. The survival rate is very good. You won’t be out of commission for long.”
Then you’ll listen to friends and family cry for you and for themselves. They are afraid for you, but they are afraid for themselves, too. A very small part of them is saying “Thank you, God, that it isn’t me.”
You will go to sleep that first night after hearing the diagnosis feeling more alone than you have ever felt in your life. If you are lucky, there will be someone who loves you lying next to you to hold you and comfort you, needing the holding and comforting almost as much as you do. Your old life is over. Your new life is up for grabs.


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