My mother always bothers me about my health. Every time I get a checkup, every time I feel a little tired, every time I have a cold, she looks at me with her mouth in a line and puts her hands on her hips. I know what that look means, although I’d prefer to forget.
Some families pass down receding hair lines or large noses, but not mine. Instead, half of my immediate family members share cancer. Not only have they had cancer, they’ve died from it. Young, old or in-between, it just seems to be our family’s thing.
So when my mom looks at me that way, I know the “c word” is running through her head, even if she won’t actually say it. Growing up this way has sanitized the term for me. Cancer was an everyday part of life, a common occurrence I’d probably have to deal with some day.
I just didn’t know how soon.
Last fall during finals, I received a call from my mom while finishing a 36-page research paper in the Noggle study room. I grabbed my phone and took the call in the bathroom so not to disturb others. My mother answered and said a single sentence.
“Your grandfather had a heart attack, your uncle is getting a divorce and I have breast cancer.”
Five minutes before I’d been worried about the size of my margins.
The journey since that day has been startlingly ordinary, as if cancer has finally moved into my life and made itself at home. The term is still sanitized and impersonal.
I’ve thought of what it would be like to die of cancer. Of what it would be like tohave my future erased, to never get married, to never turn 50.
I never considered that I would be the one left behind.
This summer was a flurry of regular appointments and ticking off days on a treatment calender. Each day began with prayers for help or praises for feeling good.
I have to admit that I complained. I got annoyed and impatient and more than anything, I wish I’d handled the whole situation with more patience and love. My mother certainly deserved it.
She was gracious to me when I didn’t deserve it. She held me when I complained of an insignificant problem, did my laundry when I was at work and prayed that my days would go better. As if I had anything to whine about.
She was the person of love I should have been in the time when she most needed me.
Perhaps too late, I finally get it. Life is precious. People are extraordinary and love is rare. Cherish accordingly.
There’s nothing more. Cancer has no reasoning; it doesn’t select its victims. God doesn’t use it to teach us lessons or to punish our shortcomings.
But He does let it happen.
For now, God is letting me keep my mom. She ended treatment a few months ago and is getting stronger all the time. I am amazed at her progress and appreciate the woman she is despite difficulty. She is truly a testament to God’s healing grace.
Thankfully, she’s extended that to me.
I take her concerned look seriously now. Not only that, but I interpret it as a sign of her love. I still hate going to the doctor, but I do it. Hopefully I won’t even have to call my daughter and use the “c word.”
But if I do, God will be there just like He always has been. No matter the circumstance, I can rely on His faithfulness and love.