Cancer, Fear, and Strength
This is a picture of my daughter. Two days after she was born. The morning after the day we left the hospital. A couple hours before I got the call. The one where the doctor had to tell me I had cancer.
I had Melanoma. Not a lot of people know that about me. I didn’t tell a lot of people. I was mad. Mad that it tried to crowd out the joy and magic of a new baby, with fear.
So I said there was nothing to worry about. That’s what the doctor had said, more or less, and everyone knew I’d be fine. Everyone but me. I was terrified. Terrified, because I’m everything everyplace says you shouldn’t be when facing melanoma.
I’m fair skinned. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and lots of moles. I tanned every day in college. I burned all the time when I was a kid. I never had a skin check, heck, I’d never heard of a skin check.
I had the realization that I was neglectful and because of it, I was going to die.
If you don’t know a lot about Melanoma, like I didn’t, and you google it, you’ll find everyplace says basically this-
Melanoma is very serious and one of the most deadly cancers. It is difficult to treat. If it spreads at all the chance of survival is very small.
You won’t find anything nice, or hopeful. Like I kept hoping I would. (You should though, this is the mirage of the internet, not the truth. The hope is in early detection, so get your skin checks!)
Mostly you find horror stories. Especially if you are a doctor phobe like I am. Especially if you’ve never had a skin check in your life and didn’t know the importance of one.
Now that I knew what the internet had to say, and what I had done, and that melanoma was real and inside me. I knew I was going to die.
And this is where I saw something I’d overlooked until that moment.
First I saw what the fear of death really looked like. It looked like three small children growing up without a mother. Never knowing how much I really loved them, what I would do for them, how far I’d go, just to see them smile. Or to keep them safe. It looked like my husband having no one to lean on when he needed to lean. No one to meet him half way or understand his pain when one of the kid’s heart inevitably broke. Him having to be strong for three of them when they lost their mom, that they needed, while trying to survive himself.
The fear of death doesn’t look like me, it looks like them.
And so I found the strength. The strength society views as just going on because you have to, until you don’t.
Do you know the idea that it takes darkness to recognize light? If you stood outside in the light of day for your entire life and there was never darkness, no night or shadows, you would see the trees, and the grass, and the flowers… But you would never see the true glory of light. And then one day, night fell. Imagine that first sunrise, the following day. I imagine you’d see the light then.
Strength is the light cancer lets you see. You never know the strength of humanity until you face the true fear of death. The dragged out, prolonged fear that’s there when you fall asleep, and back when you wake up, and you absolutely can’t shake it, because you’ve been handed the C word.
Because let’s be honest, it would be easy to run away and cry in a dark closet until you die. But how would your friends, family, and children feel?
This is why the strength is beautiful and something to admire in humanity.
We don’t live for ourselves, we aren’t strong for ourselves, we do it for the people around us. We do it for the people we love.
This strength is so very much like light, it is woven into the very fabric that holds humanity together. It has to be, because without it, death would break us, the fear of death would destroy us, the diagnosis of the carrier of death would cripple existence.
The strength can be found in hope, and in the fight, but it is present in every moment where we continue on. It is so beautiful, and admirable, and so easy to overlook.
I’ve lost some of my closest relatives to cancer. And I didn’t notice it then, but now I remember it so clearly. It is like a lovely silver lining to the tragedy of the end. It is their love for those that go on, shining in their efforts to carry on, until they don’t. The way they try and hold the fabric of normalcy together. I see it in the survivors of loved ones that have lost their dearest too.
I went to all my doctor visits, got checks and more tests. I had my surgery. Earned the scar. And came out on the other side cancer free. The doctor said something like, “We don’t like to say 100% with any cancer, but if we could…” So, whatever that means. But I take it daily as, “I’m fine,” and actually believe it.
However, I will never forget the strength it took when I didn’t believe it. The strength it took to read my children their bedtime stories peacefully.
To go to a party, holding the baby I thought may never remember my face, and let someone else hold her.
To smile at my husband across the dinner table and assure him I was fine.
The strength that is so easily overlooked.
And this is why I need to do my next series. If we can paint light, I can paint this strength.
This is my mission for my next series.
The strength that hides in the day to day, of everyone touched by the pain and fear of cancer, because we live and die the way we do, so often, for each other.
I want these paintings to be there for the fighters, to let them know their strength is seen. To remind everyone of the bittersweet beauty. This quiet, and sometimes last, stand for love. And to capture the silver lining, so survivors may remember, it’s not all darkness.
I will be painting the strong and their strength.
If you know someone, or are someone who would like to take part in this series, as a model, you can email me.
I also intend to donate a portion of proceeds to appropriate cancer charities.
So there it is! My next big thing! Follow the blog to keep up on the details. You can also like me on Facebook