Since I posted the August 31, 2011 entry entitled “38 Years Ago” I’ve had several people ask me to publish the college paper I referred to about my mom’s passing from cancer. After some deliberation, I decided to create a page for the essay. Please keep in mind that this is my 18-year-old-self rewriting a journal entry by my 13-year-old-self. I am now 51 (oddly enough, the same age my mom was when she passed away). Also, be prepared that the paper may seem somewhat depressing, but then, it was a sad, painful time in our lives. Here is:
YOU WIN, CANCER, YOU WIN
In the time of Christ, leprosy was the dreaded disease. Years later, small pox became an international killer, while malaria took many lives during the Second World War. Polio was a threat until a vaccine was developed in 1955. Today, cancer reigns as one of the most feared diseases, murdering hundreds of people each year.
Through the media we are kept quite aware of cancer and its effects. Newspapers are filled with reports on “cancer causing agents” and “breakthroughs in cancer research”. Political figures support cancer fund drives. Celebrities advertise for the American Cancer Society. Songs are sung about it and books are written about it. However, these are nothing more than abstractions, because the reality of cancer is not merely a cell invading a body, but it is an emotional hell. Not until someone shares in this emotional struggle a loved one faces during the fight for life, will anyone understand the full meaning of the word cancer.
Let me tell you about cancer. I’ve seen it; I’ve heard it; I’ve smelled it; I’ve felt it.
I’ve seen it eat away and disintegrate a human being – something living into something dying. I’ve seen it turn healthy, vibrant skin into yellow jaundice and a beautiful head of thick hair become thin and stringy. I’ve seen the body of a vital person give in to radiation and chemicals.
I’ve heard it make somebody so sick that she barfs blood. I’ve heard it scream and groan. I’ve heard a grown man, sleeping alone, weep bitterly. In the next room, sons and daughters whisper desperate prayers. I’ve heard laughter and gaiety try to cover the painful truth.
I’ve smelled the stench of hospital corridors and windowless waiting rooms. I’ve smelled a sanctuary full of sympathic flowers and the powdery, perfumed odor of a freshly laid corpse.
I’ve felt it so strongly that I’d run to my room and cry when there was bad news. At the sound of hopeful news, I’d get on my knees and cry praises to God. I’ve felt fear surge through me when the phone rang late at night. I’ve felt a tremendous courage flow through her as the family pulled together.
No, let me tell you about cancer. I hate it more than anything in this whole world. If it were a person, I’d shoot it. If it were an object, I’d break it. If it were a piece of paper, I’d burn it. But it’s a damned disease, incurable, as my hate for it is incurable.
I give up, I give in. You win, cancer, you win.
Revised on August 1, 2014 for entry into the Green Lake Christian Writer’s Conference Contest. Awarded first place on August 19, 2014. This story continues to evolve through the years.
THIS IS MY STORY
A thirteen-year-old girl shouldn’t have to watch her mother die. She should be thinking about boys and make up and school dances. On the first day of her freshman year in high school, she should be worrying about her locker combination and biology class — not her mama’s funeral. There’s never a good time for these things, but thirteen is the worst time. At least it was for me.
Everybody knows somebody with cancer. Disease is part of this fallen world. But when it knocks on your front door, you realize that cancer is more than a cell gone haywire. Not until you share in the emotional struggle a loved one faces during the fight for life, will you understand the full meaning of the world cancer.
Let me tell you about cancer. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. I’ve smelled it. I’ve felt it.
I’ve seen it eat away and disintegrate her — something living into something dying. I’ve seen it turn her healthy, vibrant skin into yellow jaundice — her beautiful head of thick hair become thin and stringy. I’ve seen her vibrant body wilt under radiation and chemicals.
I’ve heard the sound of her retching in the bathroom. I’ve heard a grown man, sleeping alone, weep bitterly. In the next room, sons and daughters are heard whispering desperate prayers while laughter and gaiety try to cover the painful truth.
I’ve smelled the stench of hospital corridors and windowless waiting rooms. I’ve smelled a sanctuary full of sympathetic flowers and the powdery, perfumed odor of a freshly laid corpse.
I’ve felt terror at the bedside of suffering, and wild hope with any positive turn. I’ve felt fear surge through me as the phone rang late at night, delivering dreaded news. I’ve know the loneliness of coming home to an empty mother-less house.
No, let me tell you about cancer. I hate it more than anything in this whole world. It stole my mother just when I needed her most. In my teen-aged sorrow, I wrote,
“I give up, I give in, You win, cancer, you win.”
Forty years have passed and time has eased the heartbreak of my mother’s death. I have learned to sing a new song:
“Let the weary children sing, The Savior lives, death lost its sting.”
This is my story. This is my song.
This is powerful, Dinah. You don’t sound like you are 13 or 18……but someone wise beyond their years. Well said. Your pain is felt.
Thank you for sharing this Dinah. So powerful, truthful, and real. Very well written and expressed. Thank you…
Love your letter. From my memory. So too it has been 30 years Sept 24th 2015 that my Cheryl (born Cheryl Warne Jan 24, 1951) had passed from a two year battle with cancer. Michele was 8 yrs old. Courtney was just turned 5 Sept 1st. The girls spent a lot of time with My folks and her folks. It may have helped them.
I felt many old memories reading your letter. I hope it helped then and helps you today.
I heard Nancy Regan once heard a friend’s consoling words “as time it will get better” (or something like that). Her response was ” it never gets better!” (or something like that) . I don’t really know. I know others who have gone through such a painful love lost (as such a one that drags on and on till death).
One thing I do know. For those who have kept the faith, It has changed us. Life is more precious. We are quicker to forgive and our compassion for others unending. My old self would never have been good enough for Kendra to fall in love with. Amen.