Cancer…one word comprised of six letters that has the power to bring down a grown man. Cancer became a part of my vocabulary in 1976. It was this year that cancer took my mother away…a beautiful, 26 year-old wife and mother of 2 young children. I am still brought to tears every time I talk about her.
You see, my mom was a DES-daughter. DES (Diethylstilbestrol) was administered to expectant mothers between 1938 and 1971. There are many reasons as to why this drug was administered, and I am unsure as to why it was prescribed to my grandmother. What I do know is the effect it had on my mother.
My mother was diagnosed with an aggressive malignant tumor on her ovary which quickly spread throughout her body. From the time she was diagnosed to the time of her passing…6 months. I remember her being sick; I remember her losing her hair and wearing wigs; I remember her beautiful smile; I remember my father picking me up from school the day of her surgery and telling me that she was gone.
I truly did not understand the impact of her passing until I reached my 26th birthday. I awoke in sheer panic. That year was the longest year of my life. As unreasonable as it sounds, I lived in fear that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and not live to see my 27th birthday. Needless to say, I was very much relieved when that day came around.
I was assured by doctors that the type of cancer that had stricken my mother was very rare and that my chances of receiving the same diagnosis were very slim, if at all. Despite that, the thought of being diagnosed with cancer was always in the back of my mind. Well, now cancer is a part of my medical history.
During an MRI to determine the cause of my sciatica, the radiologist discovered a mass on my right kidney. A CT scan later revealed a 3 cm tumor. Due to it’s appearance, I was informed that there was a 50-50 chance it was malignant. My worst fears had come true. Labs showed my kidneys and liver function was normal and x-rays indicated no metastasis. Surgery was scheduled and, on June 9, 2015, a robotic laparoscopic partial nephrectomy was performed to remove the tumor and a portion of my kidney.
As I was recovering in the hospital, the unexpected happened. Despite my sense of fear twenty years earlier, I felt a sense of calm come over me…a peacefulness, if you will. I was not scared; instead, I came to realize that I need to focus on the positives in life and to let go of the little things that previously caused me stress.
Prior to my release from the hospital, the surgeon shared the pathology report with me — Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma. Though expected, seeing the words on paper crushed me. It took all my strength not to break down. It wasn’t real until it was in print.
As my recovery continued throughout the summer, I noticed that I faced situations in a whole new light. Rather than being quick to react or get upset, it was if I was looking down from above and realizing that staying positive was the best solution. Frustrations that angered me before were faced with positivity. A friend used the term “revamping my priorities” and that’s exactly what I was doing.
As difficult as it was, I have removed people and situations from my life that brought on undue stress and negativity. No longer do I spend time and energy on people who have toxic personalities. My health, my family, and my true friends…these are my priorities, the important things in my life, and the things that deserve my positive energy.
Yes, I had cancer. However, I do not consider myself a survivor. I was a victim of a terrible disease. In no way does my experience compare to the millions of people, to include far too many family members and friends, for whom cancer has taken a much greater toll. I am, however, a person who was changed by cancer, not physically, but emotionally. And, just as there are different types of cancer, so are the reactions of those afflicted — some people become angry, some people are in denial, some people are accepting, some people appear completely unaffected.
Cancer…one word consisting of 6 letters that has the power to affect change in even the strongest of people.